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FEMINIST LIBERATION: A CALL TO REVOLUTION
An Invitation to White, Middle-Strata
Prestyterian Clergywomen to Live Passionately
U}m BENSON BREBNER
A Thesis Submitted
to the Faculty of the
Episcopal Divinity School
in Partial Fulfillment
for the Degree
Doctor of Ministry
(Feminist Liberation Theology and Ministry)
May 15, 1990
- f r^uju /> < ta^uc^ iteader
Remember not the -former things,
nor consider the things o-f old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs -forth, do you not
Table of Contents
Preface: "Feminist Liberation Theology: Called to Justice-Making Lives"
My Particularity and My Communities of Accountability 4
The Goals of the Thesis 6
The Limitations of the Thesis 6
The Flow of the Thesis 9
Chapter I Church Employed Women: Early Experiences of Feminist Liberation 14
Early History 15
Life with Church Employed Women 1972-1974 18
Relationships with Other Women's Constituencies 19
Specific Endeavors of CEW 20
Challenging the Vocation Agency 21
Work on Equal Employment Opportunity Program 22
Clergywomen-" s Therapeutic Seminar 23
Surveys of Our Constituencies 26
Hiring the Coordinator of Employment Opportunities 27
The Layoffs on the National Staff 29
Structural Relationships with the Church 31
Financial Struggles 34
Power Dynamics within CEW 36
(Analysis — See Appendix I.)
Chapter II The Relationship Between Liberal Feminism and Feminist
A Schema of Comparison 42
Moving Toward Feminist Liberation 45
Factors Blocking the Movement 46
Factors Facilitating the Movement 48
Chapter III The Journey Toward Feminist Liberation: The Lives and
Work of Three Feminist Liberation Theologians 53
The Elements of Feminist Liberation as Reflected by Three
Feminist Liberation Theologians 55
Revolutionary Change 61
Global Awareness 74
Marginal it y 82
The Process of Beginning the Journey Toward Feminist Liberation 90
Chapter IV The Lived Experience of White, Middle-Strata Feminist
Presbyterian Clergywomen 100
Issues Reflected in the Corporate and Individual Work of the
Particularity and Privilege 105
Civil Disobedience 107
Sexual /Erotic /Sensual 109
Political Sense and Involvement 110
Personal and Communal Issues 114
Ethical Norms 116
Paradigm Shifts 117
Global Sense 121
Making the Connections 123
Sense of Vocation 124
Liberal Feminism 126
Liberation Theology 128
Envisioning the Future 129
Chapter V Resistances to Feminist Liberation 133
Liberal Ideology 135
Social Privilege 141
Additional Factors of Resistance 146
Lack of Information 146
Chapter VI The Vision for and the Implications of Feminist Liberation
in the Lives and Ministries of White,, Middle-Strata Presbyterian
Saying "No" to Our Old Relationship with the Presbyterian Church 152
Fear of Reprisals and Losses 152
Possibility of Leaving the Church 154
Questioning the Viability of the Church 156
Saying "Yes" to Feminist Liberation 158
The Healing of Our Beings 158
Transforming Our Theology and Ethics 161
Theology and Ethics Must be Justice-Centered 161
Theology and Ethics Must Generate Moral Agency 162
Theology and Ethics Must Encourage Risk-Taking 163
Theology and Ethics Must Help Strengthen Communal
Theology and Ethics Must Reflect and Celebrate Our
Theology and Ethics Must Be Contextual
Theology and Ethics Must Be Connectional
Theology and Ethics Must Be Visionary
Strategies for Moving Toward Feminist Liberation in the
C lergy women •" s History Project
Conferences on Privilege
Age and Able-Bodied Privilege
Seminary Quarter for Women
Lesbian Clergy Political Caucus
Intensive One-Month Study Leave Program
Presbytery and Synod Clusters
Conclusion: A Call to Revolution
Appendices (Each is separately numbered.
Memories of Annette Wall on Pre-CEW Days in Philadelphia
CEW Prospectus and Purpose October, 1972
Descriptive Brochure of CEW May, 1974
CEW Recommendations to the Committee on the Office of Equal
Employment Opportunity April, 1973
Statistics of Responses to a Survey of Church Secretaries
A Creative New Way to Do Mission — Proposal for a Nine-
Month Employment Schedule Fall, 1974
The CEW Response to the G.A. Agency Staff Terminations
Church Employed Women's Statement and Proposal Prepared for
the General Assembly Mission Council July, 1973, and
An Analysis of the Early Years of CEW
The Design of the Gathering of Clergywomen April, 1989
Elements Essential for Transformation
The Church and Homosexuality May, 1978
Feminist Liberation Theology:
Called to Justice-Making Lives
If Justice were used as the -foundation o-f our theology, what -form would
our theology take? With Justice as the norm, Feminist Liberation Theology
calls us to:
TAKE SERIOUSLY THE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN OPPRESSIONS
Christo-facism and any other "ism" that
renders a person less than -fully human.
The web formed by all o-f these oppressions momentarily strengthens
them but also entangles them, producing a vulnerability in the -face o-f
communal endeavors to undo the
With Justice as the norm, Feminist Liberation Theology calls us to:
RESIST THE PRIVILEGE OR PREROGATIVE AFFORDED US BY
our race or
our class or
our gender or
our "whole" body, mind, -Or psyche or
our nationality or
our education or
our sexual preference or
our age or
our religious beliefs or
our work or
our politics or
any other aspect of our social
location by which we are blinded to the oppression of others that is required
by and enables our own privilege.
With Justice as the norm, Feminist Liberation Theology calls us to:
PROMISE NEVER TO FORGET THAT
900,000 persons died in Leningrad during the siege of that city -from
1941-1944, most dying of starvation.
PROMISE NEVER TO FOR&ET THAT
Kitty Genevese was stabbed countless times and finally died in a New
York City street while many persons watched from their windows and refused to
do anythina out of lack of concern or an unwillinqness to get involved.
PROMISE NEVER TO FORGET THAT
Millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and other so called misfits
were reduced from human beings to no beings and could, therefore, be
■istreated in any Banner which suited their oppressors and executioners,
whether by slave labor, experimental surgery, forced guarding and torturing of
their own people, or the crematoria.
PROMISE NEVER TO FORGET THAT
Shannon died at 3 1/2 years because the law said that his violent
father should h&ve ample opportunity to prove that he was a good father.
PROMISE NEVER TO FOR&ET THAT
Tens of thousands of persons disappeared from the streets of
Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Brazil, Guatemala and of many other Latin
American countries and were subsequently jailed, tortured and killed, all
because they dared to believe that the poor and oppressed had dignity and
should be afforded rights and respect.
PROMISE NEVER TO FORGET THAT
Joan Clark lost her reputation and the job which she had held for
nine years in the Women's Unit of the United Methodist Church because she
dared to come out as a lesbian.
PROMISE NEVER TO FORGET THAT
South African Blacks, Coloreds, and other non-whites risk and give
their lives in the struggle against the most structured system of enforced
racism in the world, namely. Apartheid.
PROMISE NEVER' TO FOR&ET THAT
Bob must leave his family because he has lost his job, and his wife
and four children cannot get welfare help unless he is no longer a part of the
PROMISE NEVER TO FORGET THAT
Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo, Martin Luther King, James Cheney, Andrew
Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Malcolm X, James Reeb, Emmett Till, Jonathan
Daniels, and many others gave their lives or risked their lives to bring Civil
flights to the Blacks in this country.
PROMISE NEVER TO FORGET THAT
Jesus of Nazareth was tortured and executed ©y the state for being a
subversive rabblerowser because he advocated for the poor and oppressed,
questioned authority, both religious and secular, and saw the need for
PROMISE NEVER TO FORGET THAT .
Countless women and children around the world are raped or sexually
abused each moment of each day either in the street or inside their homes. No
place is safe for them. Fourteen Canadian women were shot in a classroom
merely because they were perceived by their murderer to be feminists.
PROMISE NEVER TO FORGET THAT
John was bashed to death while the young men who murdered him
chanted and danced in glee — all because John was gay.
PROMISE NEVER TO FORGET THAT
Millions of women, who were called witches because they taught the
Bible, healed people, asked difficult questions, and saw visions were burned
at the stake, exiled From their communities, hanqed, drowned, cooked in oil.
PROMISE NEVER TO FORGET THAT
Margaret is beaten and starved by her daughter and son-in-law; her
only crime is that she is 80 years old and cannot take care of herself any
PROMISE NEVER TO FORGET THAT
Dozens of young Korean women lose their eyesight each year from
working on computer chip boards on the global assembly line. As a result,
they are considered outcasts in their society.
PROMISE NEVER TO FORGET THAT
Countless others are oppressed in sundry ways each day whoa we do
forget, for we do not know of their suffering, either because they are hidden
by their isolation or because they are part of such a large group of
sufferers. Still we are called to remember that they are here in our midst.
With Justice as the norm, Feminist Liberation Theology calls us to:
END OUR SILENT PARALYSIS IN THE FACE OF THE INJUSTICE IN OUR WORLD
WHETHER THAT PARALYSIS RESULTS FROM
...ignorance or naivete
...or a set of personal priorities that does not leave much room for
thought or action about such weighty matters
...or just plain indifference
...or a focus on individual salvation
...or a lack of imagination as to what can be done to bring about
...or a fear of what eight happen to us as a result of our caring deeply
and acting out of that concern.
We are called out beyond that paralysis, however comfortable that slavery may
have become for us, for some little part of us continues to remind us that
until each person is treated justly, none of us is truly liberated.
With Justice as the norm, Feminist Liberation Theology calls us to:
HELP TO CREATE A VISION OF PEACE, LOVE AND JUSTICE AS PARTNERS, CO-
CREATORS AND SOUL MATES OF OUR CREATOR GOD...
by committing ourselves to our own conversion of heart and our own
spiritual development whatever form that »ay take.
by harkening to the testimony of the saints who have preceded us in
this journey of faith. Their love, justice and hope live on in us.
by joining in corporate/communal action where those who are committed
to justice breathe as one in a conspiracy of transformation, which may, in the
particular situation, take the form of simple reform or profound revolution.
by taking our lead from those on the underside of every domination
and oppression so that our mutuality can be real. We learn from and are
changed by their experiences of power lessness and powerfulness.
by continually being aware of and improving our analysis of the
systemic nature of all oppressions which thwart, cripple and/or kill most of
us in this world and by being committed to the institutional change necessary
■for our transformation and resurrection.
by taking the risks involved in working and living -for justice,
because as a result of uncovering our own invisibility or our identification
with other oppressed folks, we will be treated as all uppity people have been
treated throughout history.
by creating ways to work with other justice-committed people in
alliances and coalitions so that the web of oppression can be more quickly
broken by means of our collaboration.
by empowering each other to be effective in "la lucha," the struggle
that is the living out of our lives in justice.
With Justice as the norm, Feminist Liberation Theology calls us to:
PARTICIPATE IN THE DANCE OF LIBERATION WHICH INCLUDES:
the celebration of the particularity of each person
affirmation of sensuality and sexuality
love and affection
restoration of hope
the joy of play
peace fulfilled basic needs
a. sense of global family
freedom from fear harmony with all of creation
the power of ritual
open friendship justice
empowerment of our communities
fair distribution of goodies
affirmation of child-likeness
All are invited to join the dance! All are welcome!
INDEED, THERE IS A RESURRECTION LURKING!
Linda B. Brebner
Hodified December, 1989
Background ; My ministry as a Presbyterian clergywoman -for the past 25
years has always had a strong social justice dimension. There are not many
social justice issues in which I have not been involved to one degree or
another. I began with a real sense of caring which demonstrated itself in
service. Then through my growing involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, I
began to understand that justice was what was called for although I was not
sure how I could make a difference. Since the time I self-consciously
identified myself as a feminist in 1971, I found that through becoming aware
of my own oppression, the oppression of others took on new meaning for me. I
began more fully to understand the systemic nature of injustice and the kind
of commitment which was involved in the changing of structures. 1 also became
aware of the connections among oppressions and of the necessity to address
those linkages through coalitions of groups of justice-making persons.
As I have struggled with these many justice issues, I have found myself,
along with others, frustrated by the reality that many times we have been less
than successful in bringing about the changes which we have perceived were
needed. Sometimes we did not have the proper analysis of the political,
social, economic situation which we faced, and other tines we did not seem to
have the tools to move beyond our analysis to bring -about the change which we
felt was required. Also many times the alliances and coalitions which we
built fell apart at significant points. Other times some of us have fallen
apart physically, emotionally or spiritually. In the midst of the fray, it
was often difficult to reflect on the issues of analysis and process. The
process of writing this thesis has provided me with the opportunity for such
During the -first years of my ministry I was comfortable and proud to
call myself a liberal as opposed to more conservative political and
theological perspectives. However, as I became more sensitive to the depth of
the change required for liberation, I began to see that uncritically embracing
liberalism (even feminist liberalism) aight be part of the problem in my
analysis and advocacy. Having said that, I find it is important to affirm
that it is in Liberal Feminist soil that I discovered the seeds of Feminist
Liberation. It is both those seeds of Feminist Liberation and the :
contradictions which I find in Liberal Feminism which compel me to embrace a
Feminist Liberation analysis. It is really my experience that I flow back and
forth between the two analyses, and depending on the context I experience
those two viewpoints in different ways at different times.
At tiroes I find Liberal Feminism and Feminist Liberation compatible,
while other times I believe it is my Liberal Feminism which shields me froir:
recognizing the necessity of and blocks me from embracing Feminist Liberation.
Thus I fail to take the significant risks involved in truly confronting the
oppressive structures of the church and society. It seems that Liberal
Feminism has provided me with a more comfortable analysis which in most ways
does not really challenge the status quo or the systemic nature of injustice.
Liberal Feminism has answered calls -for justice in Central America with
heartfelt anger and concern but with caution not to support revolution, calls
for justice for the homeless with shelters and soup kitchens but with no
economic analysis or change, calls for justice for women with the struggle for
the Equal Rights Aaendment but with little awareness of the connections among
the various oppressions and how white middle-strata (1) women participate in
the privilege o-f race and class.
At one time these Liberal Feminist positions indicated progress to me,
but now I wonder whether they only blunt the cries o-f the oppressed by seeming
to respond while all the time the power relationships remain the same. There
are ways in which the liberal response may ameliorate the worst effects o-f
injustice thereby deradicalizing those who would fight the oppression they
experience. Within Liberal Feminism there has been a real commitment to cure
the ills of society but without an understanding of the need for the
fundamental changing of the patriarchal structures of society which are '
integral to oppression and injustice. Having said that, ironically I must
also say that it is in the very incremental responses of Liberal Feminism that
I see some glimmers of Feminist Liberation. It is the place where I find
signs of hope for transformation and at the same time the place where my
frustrations grow to the unendurable point. It is for this reason that I wish
to focus my work on encouraging myself and others to explore those
relationships and to see how they affect our lives and ministries.
As a feminist Christian clergy woman who is trying to move more
consistently away from Liberal Feminism and toward Feminist Liberation, I need
to distinguish between the two, to struggle with how a person obtains and
sustains a liberation worldview and praxis, and to identify how such a
worldview and praxis impact my ministry and the ministry of other white,
-•iddle-strata feminist Christian women, -both lay *nd clergy, who are actively
involved in doing justice in the church and the world.
I want to challenge myself and other white feminist Christian women to
struggle with the issue of what it means to be committed to a Feminist
Liberation model of justice and to live our lives consistent with that
commitment in order to be honest with ourselves and with those with whom we
are in solidarity as we join la lucha , Spanish for "the struggle which is
life itself." I believe, as Christians,, we are called to do justice as our
life work which is also our faith work. No one knows in what context or
community one will be called to do justice, but that "la lucha" is always
there, one can be assured. Within the vocation of doing justice, we are
called to be astute and effective in that struggle. I believe Feminist
Liberation provides the greatest possibility for fulfilling that vocation and
enables us to set our goals and strategies appropriately.
My Particularity and My Communities of Accountability : In order to do
my work with clarity and integrity, I believe it is important to state that I
am a white, middle-strata, Presbyterian clergywoman who is a. citizen of the
United States. I was among the first 50 women ordained in the United
Presbyterian Church, and it has been an exciting and frightening journey. Six
years after my ordination which took place in 1965, I became a feminist, and
my life and ministry have never been the same. It was a. paradigm shift which
has been life-transforming for me. The addressing of institutional injustice
became central to my understanding of my ministry. Although I continue to
operate much of the time from intuition in the doing of justice, I have
increasingly realized my need for a liberation analysis of the systemic nature
of oppression and of effective strategies for opposing it.
It is important to mention that I have struggled greatly with whether or
not intentionally to use my identity as a lesbian as a factor in this work.
My fear has been that such a "blatant" acknowledgement of the role of my
lesbianism in my theological and political development would block my work
from being heard by »any of the persons with whom I wish to communicate.
However the more I have questioned whether I could point out my lesbianism as
a significant prism through which I view the issue of embracing Feminist
Liberation, the more I have realized that it is impossible for me to do this
work with integrity without explicitly affirming the role that my lesbianism
has played in who I am, what I believe and which commitments I hold dear. It
is the only way I can speak the truth I perceive from whence I stand.
My people (2) are white, middle-strata feminist Presbyterian clergywomen,
•any of whom are struggling with the same questions I am. All of ay
Presbyterian clergy sisters are my community of accountability and support.
This circle quickly expands to white, middle-strata feminist clergywomen of
all other denominations. The denominational lines have little meaning, most
of the time, to those of us who are feminist clergywomen.
My people also include feminists who are laywomen across the
Presbyterian Church and within other denominations. I am particularly
concerned about the power divisions which exist between clergywomen and
laywomen. I both recognize the separations and am committed to the coming
together of women across those lines. I also choose to respond to the voices
of racial ethnic women in the United States and to women around the world, for
it is from them that I have learned so much of what I know about justice and
sisterhood. However, I have chosen specifically to direct this thesis to
white, middle-strata feminist Presbyterian clergywomen because of the special
accountability I have to thee *nd they to «e. 1 feel «y morY -will speak #ost
profoundly to them and that my call and challenge will have particular
authenticity within that circle. Even «ore specifically, I direct «y thesis
to those who have a Feminist Liberation analysis but are working and living
where that analysis is rejected or ignored and to those who hold to a Liberal
Feminist analysis but are -finding that analysis problematic or unsatisfactory.
I do hope that others within and outside o-f the Presbyterian Church and the
United States will also find my work helpful as they struggle on their
particular issues in their particular times and places.
The Goals of the Thesis : The nature of ay thesis is potentially all-
encompassing; therefore it is important for me to state the goals which I wish
to fulfill in this thesis, realizing that work on these goals may lead me to
•any questions and issues which will have to be addressed at a another time.
My stated goals are as follow:
1. To identify the ways in which Liberal Feminism points or fails to
point the way to Feminist Liberation.
2. To discover what personally, institutionally, societal ly, and
intellectually blocks and facilitates white, middle-strata feminist
Presbyterian clergywbmen in moving more consistently toward Feminist
3. To uncover the limitations and risks of feminist Presbyterian
clergy women continuing to affirm and use a Liberal Feminist analysis as a
foundational base for our lives and ministries.
4. To clarify what the implications are of embracing a Feminist
Liberation analysis on the personal lives and ministries of Presbyterian
5. To create a vision of Feminist "Liberation toward which we can
individually and corporately «ove with intentionality and commitment.
The Limitations of the Thesis : Having stated my goals, it is important
to indicate the limitations I have drawn for my work. The following are the
1. I have a built-in bias to Feminist Liberation toward which I would
hope that Christians -feminists would move. Although I believe that there are
some positive aspects to Liberal Feminism, increasingly I see myself, and
encourage others in, embracing Feminist Liberation. Thus in my thesis I am
assuming, not arguing, the desirability o-f a Feminist Liberation perspective
as opposed to a Liberal Feminist stance.
. I have chosen to -focus this thesis on the lives and ministries of
white, aiddle-strata Presbyterian clergywomen. I have chosen to do so for
several reasons. First, I am concerned that many white, middle-strata women
have failed to see our particularity as being important; therefore we have
also failed to honor the particularity of others different from ourselves. We
have often mistakenly thought we could speak for all women. I am attempting
to speak about and to women most like me in experience while recognizing that
each of us is unique. Second, -feminists have often come together and assumed
that because we were all feminists, there were no significant differences. In
so doing, we have ignored the differences in privilege and power, especially
those represented by our race «nd class, kie have falsely assumed we were
being inclusive while overlooking the power dynamics present in the group
which work against trust and communication so necessary for working together.
I have chosen for this thesis to reduce the power differential within my
primary support group by choosing to limit the composition of its •embership.
I realize that I am taking a risk that 1 aay have aade a mistake; but there
being no perfect process, I cannot avoid some risk.
Methodology : My methodology reflects »y commitment to honoring my own
experience while realizing that the experience of j>y sisters is also essential
for my work. In order to be accountable to those to and on behalf of whom I
airi particularly writing this thesis, I invited a small group o-f white, middie-
strata feminist Presbyterian clergy women, both lesbian and heterosexual, to
participate in a week-end retreat during which we re-flected on our experiences
as clergywomen as they relate to the issues focused on in my thesis. In this
setting I related as a peer and colleague, rather than a distanced researcher,
since I perceived my thesis work to emerge -from our experiences and to speak
to all o-f us about our lives and ministries. I did not see this retreat as a
field project per se, but rather as a means of Baking sure that my lived
experience and the conclusions I might come to in this thesis were reflective
of the experience of a broader group of feminist Presbyterian clergywomen.
In order to correct for assumptions and distortions which might have
emerged from our work as a result of our race and status as white clergywomen,
I asked three racial ethnic clergywomen and three lay denominational staff
women to respond to the summary I made of the work that we white clergywomen
did in our retreat as well as the written responses which each woman gave to a
schedule of questions I sent to them. I did not ask them (racial ethnic
clergywomen and lay staff women) whether they had had the same experience, but
whether they saw any places where I had missed some important insights into
our experience which might be clearer to those who use different lenses
through which to look at some of the same issues. I chose to be accountable
to a larger group of Presbyterian women because it was a means of
acknowledging the particular experiences of particular women who are employed
within the Presbyterian Church. I also asked the racial ethnic clergywomen
and national lay staff women some additional questions to elicit some comments
on their own experiences. I decided to pay these six women small honoraria
(3) so as to acknowledge symbolically the work they did for roe since they may
not benefit as directly from my work and thesis.
I was also very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet in December,
1989, with three Steering Committee members of Church Employed Women, who
served with me during my two years o-f service (1972-1974). They were Carol
Ames, Annette Wall, and Shirley Wooden, and Ann DuBois joined us -for our week-
end to help us to reflect and to record our memories. In addition, Annette,
Ann and I met with Maggie Kuhn, who was the staff to the Professional Women's
Caucus (one of the predecessor groups to CEW) and a continuing support person
to CEW. Her recollections were most helpful to me. Lastly, Ann and I spent
two days at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia reading
through the records of the life of CEW during the period from 1972 to 1975.
Without ail of these resources, both personal and written, the writing of
Chapter I would have been virtually impossible. I am very grateful to all of
these sisters for the time and energy they generously contributed to my work.
In addition to the above consultants for my thesis, I have used the
lives and the work of three feminist theologians. Carter Heyward, Letty
Russell and Dorcthee Soelle as illustrative of the journey toward Feminist
Liberation. I realize that like so many of us who struggle to embrace
Feminist Liberation, these three women manifest in their lives and work the
pressures, contradictions, frustrations and joys of that journey. I have read
extensively of their written work and have interviewed them personally
regarding their experiences of that journey. I interviewed Heyward and
Russell in face-to-face encounters, but I was limited to taped and written
communication with Soelle since she was not planning to be in this country
during the period in which I was doing research for this thesis.
The Flow of the Thesis : I had planned to have the thesis begin with
my own life and ministry as described in the Introduction -followed by the
description of Liberal Feminism and Feminist Liberation. Then I wanted to
establish a base line of the journey -from Liberal Feminism to Feminist
Liberation as presented in the lives and ministries o-f the three -feminist
theologians. Next I was going to move into a summary o-f the discussions I had
with the other white middle-strata Fresbyterian clergywomen about our lived
experiences which would -further expand «y understanding of the journey on
which we had embarked from Liberal Feminism to Feminist Liberation. The.- added
insight of lay staff women and racial ethnic clerqywomen would then help me to
correct any false assumptions and to move into a clearer understanding of
where white, middle-strata Presbyterian clergywomen may have missed some
important connections along the way. Lastly I wanted to consider the
theological and ethical implications of this journey on the lives and
ministries of white, middle-strata Fresbyterian clergywomen.
The flow of this thesis has changed dramatically several times due to
the results of my research. 1 will continue to focus on my own experience as
reflected in my life and ministry in the Introduction and throughout the
thesis where appropriate. Chapter I will tell the story and give a brief
analysis^ of the life of Church Employed Women, a national advocacy group for
women employed by the United Presbyterian Church in the 1970s, which I co-
chaired for two years. I had initially 'thought CEW would be the
quintessential illustration of Liberal Feminism; but as a result of
conversations with other CEW members and my own further analysis, I now wish
to use CEW as a case study of early experiences of Feminist Liberation. In
Chapter II I will briefly define the elements of Liberal Feminism and Feminist
Liberation and how they interact so as to provide a common ground of
understanding o-f how I am understanding these terms. Chapter III will focus
on the work and lives o-f the three Feminist Liberation theologians as a way of
showing how Feminist Liberation is embodied in their lives and works and how
the Feminist Liberation vision calls Presbyterian clergywomen to respond.
Chapter IV will reflect my conversations with the white, middle-strata
feminist Presbyterian clergywomen and their written responses to questions I
posed to them. This chapter will make clear that this group of clergywomen
(which was about as progressive as they come) was decidedly positioned within
Liberal Feminism. Then in Chapter V I will suggest some reasons why I believe
that we tend to resist the analysis, commitments, and strategies of Feminist
Liberation. In chapter VI I will concentrate on the vision which Feminist
Liberation offers and what difference Feminist Liberation might make in the
lives and ministries of white, middle-strata feminist Presbyterian
clergywomen. Lastly, in Chapter v'll I will pose some possible strategies
which will help Presbyterian clergywomen to move toward Feminist Liberation.
Tnere is no separate chapter reflecting the responses of the racial ethnic
clergywomen and the lay staff women. Rather I have chosen to integrate their
responses into my last three chapters. I have used quotes where possible, but
more important is the general impact their responses made on my thinking and
my writing. To these sisters, I am deeply indebted for the tenor of this
thesis as well as for the specific cited responses they made.
Dedication ; I wish to dedicate this thesis to Ann EuBois, whose
encouragement and support, both professional and sisterly, made all the
to Carter Heyward, Dorothee Soelle and Letty Russell, whose lives and
works help me to know that Feminist Liberation is possible.
to Carter Heyward, Joanna Dewey and Katie Cannon, my advisors on this
thesis, whose long-suffering over drafts, even ones coming from Latin America,
and whose confidence in my ability to complete this work kept me going when
the going was tough.
to Lark, Dweller, Janelle, Virginia, Red, Daisy, Ruby Fruit, River
Woman, and Deborah, my Presbyterian clergywomen colleagues, who shared
precious stories of their lives with me and helped to mirror for me my own
precious memories. Their experiences and commitments called me to account and
sharpened my vision.
to Sally, Doris, Margaret, Phyllis, Susan, and Mary, the racial ethnic
clergywomen and lay staff women, my sisters who shared their precious stories
and helped me to see how important our particularities are.
to Card Ames, Shirley Wooden, Annette Wall, and Maggie Kuhn, who shared
with me the struggle of the CEW years and who dared to remember both the good
and bad memories.
To Elizabeth, Nancy, Pat, Gordon, Ann, Lois, Pauline and Molly, my
colloquium mates, who first heard my ideas for this thesis, challenged my
thinking, and supported me as I struggled to give birth to this thesis. Also
to Joanna Dewey, our colloquium professor, who kept us on track in our task
and who was our advocate and critic at every turn.
To Carol Ames, Peta Blake, Jackie Girard, Jeffrey Mills, Joan Horgan
Richard Brown, Lieve Troch, and Julie Wilson, who worked long and hard to help
•e get this thesis in and out of the computer with -few mishaps and errors, in
and out of the copier without losing any of the pages, and finally into the
folders without pinching our fingers.
And to all those who listened to my ideas and gave me new ideas over the
dinner table at Episcopal Divinity School.
Note: I want to acknowledge the real help that Nancy Richardson gave »e in
thinking creatively about the methodology of this thesis, and her clear
guidance shows up most clearly in this chapter.
1. My use of the word, "strata," is in response to the concern reflected by
Isasi Diaz and Tarango:
Hispanic Women's Liberation Theology uses the tern strata because some
factors usually not included in the Anglo concept of class are very
important and play a major role in determining to which strata any given
person might belong. For example, the longer a family has been a member
of a given community, the higher the strata to which the members of the
family belong; if the family has been among the founders of the town,
parish, or organization, the strata of its members is high, regardless
of present economic status...
Isasi Diaz, Ada rtaria and Tarango, Yolanda, Hispanic Women: Prophetic Voice in
the Church (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 62.
2. "My people" is a term used to name a group with which one identifies most
significantly in relation to one's particularities. In this case, the group I
call my people are white, middle-strata feminist Presbyterian clergywomen with
whom I share race, class, political persuasion, religious affiliation and
profession. At various points, a person may lift up different groups to
identify as "my people" depending on the context.
3. I have been fortunate to have the financial support of the Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.) in bringing the group of white, middle-strata clergywomen
together, in transcribing the tapes from that gathering and in providing these
Church Employed Women: Early Experiences o-f Feminist Liberation
One of the places where I invested much o-f my early -feminist years
was in Church Employed Women (CEW), an organization developed around the
issues o-f women employed in the United Presbyterian Church (UPCUSA). When I
initially thought o-f including a chapter about CEW in this thesis, I had
planned to use it as an illustration o-f Liberal Feminism at work in the
UPCUSA. However, I discovered that my recollections, and those o-f other women
involved in CEW during that period (These are the women with whom I met in
December, 1989.), pointed in the direction o-f CEW' s reflecting much more
Feminist Liberation than I had originally believed, albeit many times an
intuitive, and often unintentional, liberation. Since my early development as
a feminist was closely related to my experience in CEW, I offer this chapter
as a case study to introduce some issues that emerged during those years.
Many of those issues have spurred me on to ask the questions I am asking in
After laying out the historical base, I wish to describe CEW (especially
during the years from 1972 to 1974 when I was deeply involved in its life as
co-chairwoman of its Steering Committee, and its interrelationships with both
the UPCUSA and the other women's constituency groups within the UPCUSA. Then
I wish to highlight some of the ways in which CEW's history manifests Feminist
Liberation leanings. In addition, I will analyze some results of the overall
endeavors of CEW. Finally, I will indicate how these Feminist Liberation
leanings were undermined, leading to CEW' s slipping into Liberal Feminism.
(Since my analysis depends upon a comparison between Feminist Liberation and
Liberal Feminism found in Chapter II, I have placed this analysis in Appendix
I, which can be read a-fter referring to that material.)
In September, 1972, I was asked to attend an early meeting of the
Steering Committee of Church Employed Women (CEW). As an organization, CEW
was coming from a feminist perspective, and the members of the organization
had high energy for bringing the "feminist revolution" to life in the UPCUSA.
In Our Rightful Place: The Story of F'resbyter ian Women. 1970-1983 . Liz Verdesi
and Lillian Taylor describe how the organization initially came together.
They mention how the Task Force on Women (1) decided at its first meeting in
1970 that it couldn't address all the issues regarding women so it set up a
special group of clergywomen, educators and other professional women employed
in the church to focus on the issues pertaining to the employment of women in
the UPCUSA. This group, called the "Professional Women's Caucus," first met
in November, 1970, and it was chaired by Rev. Willa Roghair with Maggie Kuhn
giving staff support. (2)
This caucus did some work in relation to the 1971 General Assembly
(G.A.), held in Rochester, New York. Most significant, in my opinion, was the
meeting of professional women employed by the church. I attended that
•eeting, and it was there that I became self-consciously a feminist. That
gathering was to have a profound iapact on the lives of «any women who
attended it. A letter written by Liz Knott reflects this:
...The 183rd General Assembly will always be a point of reference for
me. You have opened the horizon — lifted the horizon of my own
consciousness and conscience; you have opened and lifted the horizon of
possibilities for professional and concerned women in the Church. I am
excited about the future as never before; I am hopeful for the place of
women; I am deeply concerned about the training of women to work within
the political arena of the church and society for the supreme purpose of
being "effective" reconcilers. Because of our noted history of
experiences of discrimination and injustice, possibly we can become the
instruments o-f advocacy and reconciliation -for our Black brothers and
sisters and all minority persons. (This was the G.A. when tensions
between Whites and Blacks were high because of the denomination's
contribution to Angela Davis' legal defense fund.) In recalling the
divisions on issues in the General Assembly — divisions theologically and
racially, there is an urgency about our task — there is an urgency about
our equipping the saints to become effective "operators" within and
outside the system...
Liz was to become an active member of the CEW Steering Committee, and she
continues to struggle with many of these same issues many years later as the
Executive for the Synod of Alaska/Northwest.
In addition to the activating of professional women employed within the
UPCUSA, other movements going on in the church would impact this new caucus:
As a result of an action by the General Assembly in 1971, which called
for the upgrading and enhancement of the status of women employed as
secretaries, office managers, etc., a series of luncheon meetings had
been scheduled in the board offices in the Witherspoon Building in
Philadelphia and at 475 Riverside Drive, New York. There, interested
women employees discussed their concerns, grievances, problems — as well
as their hopes for the reorganized church (a restructuring was occurring
at this time), and their anxieties about possible termination,
unemployment compensation and retirement/termination benefits. Annette
Wall reported that these women employees "would favor joining with the
Professional Women's Caucus. " (3) (Appendix A provides some of Annette's
notes about the early history of the Women's Committee in Philadelphia.)
It is clear, in its minutes, that the Professional Women's Caucus was mindful
of class differences, and that by responding positively to the overture of the
women in "support positions," they were trying to offset those divisions. The
minutes of the Krisheim Meeting reflect this commitment:
The Steering Committee (of Professional Women's Caucus) responded
affirmatively to this report, stating that women employees should be
included and expressing hope that the caste system of the boards
perpetuated by false distinctions between 'executive' and 'clerical'
jobs could be eliminated. Such a system has no place in the new
This action reflects one of the great strengths of CEW. It understood
that doing justice for women involves more than attempting monolithicallv to
address the problem o-f sexism. Economic/class realities, -for example, were
critical to women's well-being. (5) It was certainly a glimmer o-f liberation
that this group, unlike almost every other denomination's comparable
organization, brought all employed women together. This invited the
realization o-f a »uch larger scope o-f issues needing to be addressed by one
small organization with no regularized -financial support or staf-f. Once it
had made that commitment, however, it tried to be evenhanded in the allotment
o-f its time and energy in terms o-f the various groups o-f women it considered
to be included in its constituency.
At the G.A. in 1972, the organization of Church Employed Women was
approved as an organized group within the denomination. Further activity by
CEW at the 1972 G.A. is recorded:
...As part o-f the restructuring, the General Assembly also accepted a
plan submitted by the Committee on Reorganization which established a
"Consulting Committee on Women Employed by the Church" as part o-f the
new Vocation Agency. According to this plan, at least -five members o-f
the Consulting Committee were to be named by the CEW organization. CEW
had also requested a budget o-f $5,000 -from the General Assembly. This
request was rejected, which meant -for CEW a continuing dependency on
membersnip dues and on the generosity of the Task Force on Women and of
the Board of Christian Education (which made a program grant to CEW in
June of that year). (6)
Having made it clear that it would take over the responsibilities for
the issues of women employed by the church, CEW, at its meeting in September,
1972, somewhat distanced itself from the Task Force on Women. It was at that
•eeting that "a national structure of Church Employed Women was established
...with four regions, each of which was to be represented on an 18-»ember
Steering Committee. Clergywomen, educators, secretaries, etc., were to be
included in each region's representation. " (7) (For «ore on a sense of the
purpose of CEW and its efforts to find a place within the UPCUSA at that time,
see Appendix B.) It was also at that meeting, i>y -first, that I was elected to
be the co-chair to serve with Annette Wall, a secretary at the Board o-f
Christian Education in Philadelphia. Suddenly I was leading a fledgling
organization in a very tumultuous sea o-f the UPCUSA during a period of
restructuring. Certainly it was a case of "treading where angels fear to go."
Life with Church Employed Women 1972-1974
I now wish to point out what I believe to be particularly important
realities in the life of Church Employed Women, realities that indicate a
tendency toward Feminist Liberation or away from it.
The Steering Committee : As I think back to my years with Church
Employed Women, I am particularly mindful of the women with whom I worked on
the Steering Committee. All were very committed to women employed in the
UPCUSA, but each also had great needs of her own. They needed support;
therefore much of our meeting time was spent listening to and advising one
another about problems that related to CEW's concerns, but didn't always move
us along on to our heavy and urgent corporate agenda. (8) At each meeting we
heard our quota of horror stories. The women who were unemployed at the last
meeting might now be employed, but others were about to take their places in
the unemployment line. It was impossible for some women to set aside their
own agendas for the entire meeting, which made it difficult to proceed with
the group's agenda. Chairing the meetings was sometimes horrendous. Annette
Wall, co-chairwoman with «e 1972-1973, recalls feeling that by the end of soae
■eetings she was behaving like Attila the Hun in order to get things done.
In addition to the personal dynamics, we struggled with the dual need to
build horizontal relationships among our group and beyond and to address
employed women's issues in the hierarchical/vertical organization of the
denomination. We also experienced the pull between addressing national issues
and building a grassroots organization. There was also the rather
schizophrenic phenomenon of wanting to be in the system while critiquing it
unmercifully. One minute we were distressed because we were excluded and the
next we became aware that the only reason we could confront the system, as we
were, was because we were not a part of it. Considering the competing
dynamics in most of our meetings, it is, indeed, amazing that we accomplished
so much during those years. (See Appendix C. ) Because we were all new to
feminism and to church politics, it was difficult for us to sort out or
analyze how to make decisions as we operated in the midst of these tensions
Relationships with Other Women's Constituencies : In our first couple of
years, CEW had to do much negotiating with other women's constituencies,
including the newly organized Council on Women and the Church (COWAC), the
successor group to the Task Force on Women. COWAC was basically a liberal
feminist body, as distinguished from United Presbyterian Women (UPW), a long-
established and well-heeled organization of women organized at the local,
regional and national levels of the UPCUSA. We also developed a relationship
with Third World Women's Coordinating Committee (TWWCC), another new
organization composed of women of color representing black, hispanic, asian
and native american women. The interrelationships with these groups were
complex. In the early years, CEW tended to stand with COWAC and TWWCC in
opposition to the leadership of UPW, which seemed to want to preserve their
institutional relationships, roles, and concerns pretty «uch the way they
were. (9) The rest of us were struggling for things to be changed in
significant ways, at least we thought so. Verdesi describes these complicated
relationships very well:
Perhaps the situation can best be understood if likened to a
■family, .. .where "Mother UPW, " after years of nurturing and protecting
her "daughters," COWAC and TWWCC, helped to educate them and watched
them launch out on careers of their own. "Mother" was even supportive
of CEW. Though not a daughter, CEW seemed without a home and therefore
in need of "Mother's" friendliness. But "Daughter COWAC" seemed
unnecessarily uppity — as well as extremely patronizing to "Mother." At
the same time, "Mother" was hopelessly old-fashioned and submissive so
far as "COWAC" was concerned. And according to "Mother," "Daughter
TWWCC" did not express proper appreciation for all the help "Mother"
gave her. While from TWWCC's perspective, it seemed as if "Mother" was
continually trying to determine how TWWCC should use the help she
UPW had the advantage of having its own history, autonomy and money, and COWAC
was a Council directly related to the General Assembly Mission Council with
regular funding, while CEW and TWWCC constantly were forced to find money from
one pocket or another. The difficulties and differences among the four
constituencies were understandable, but they were also taken advantage of by
the ecclesiastical system. The established power bases could use our
intergroup struggles against us.
Specific Endeavors of Church Employed Women ; Soon after my election as
co-chair of CEW in 1972, I moved to Philadelphia to "staff" CEW, for which I
received a small stipend from the Board of Christian Education, as well as to
be co-chair. It was an exciting and terrifying time to be doing what I was
doing. It was exciting because Annette and I were both in Philadelphia, and
we aade a good team with different skills and backgrounds. We found ourselves
traveling on behalf of CEW almost every week-end which was both exciting and
exhausting. (11) When all else failed, Annette's humor got us through. There
was little we would not attempt with a little support from Pat Kepler, the
staff person related to the Task Force on Women. (12) We were strengthened by
the CEW group behind us, and we used the referent power -from that group to do
work on CEW's behalf. Some of our endeavors were:
1. Challenging the Vocation Agency : One of the first things to happen,
after I moved to Philadelphia, was that the Vocation Agency Board totally
ignored the fact that CEW was the organization that had proposed the
establishment of the Consulting Committee on Women Employed by the Church. The
Board failed to permit CEW, as all had agreed, to appoint at least five
•embers to the this committee. Instead the Vocation Agency Board decided to
request an ad hoc group of women to appoint the five members. (13) These women
had been invited to come together (for a one-time conference in Louisville in
January, 1973) as individuals, rather than representatives, even though they
came from each of the women's constituencies, including CEW. Upon receiving
this information, Annette Wall and I were outraged; however, this experience,
in the end, became one of empowerment. We requested a meeting with Don Smith,
the new General Director of the Vocation Agency. The only mutually possible
time for us to meet with him was during the upcoming CEW Steering Committee
meeting. Even though it would be in the middle of our CEW meeting time, we
felt that we had no choice but to see him then since the ad hoc conference was
happening the next week. Once the gathered women had made their appointments,
it would be too late for CEW to act.
When Annette and I reported what was going on to the gathered Steering
Committee members, who were then meeting in New York City, they too were
furious and insisted that all of us go to see Don Smith. When the time came,
all IB of us stood in the outer office of the Vocation Agency. When Don came
out, he was shocked. As the women of many different church professions fro«
all over the U.S. introduced themselves, it was clear that Don was impressed.
Annette and I did have broad support, and we had a real constituency. We had
agreed that only -five of us would speak during our time with Don. As Don
ushered us into his small temporary office, Nelle Morton put down a tape
recorder and said, "Don, you won't mind if we tape this conversation." It was
a statement rather than a question. Don stood up against a partition between
two windows looking pale and as i-f he had been impaled on an invisible sword.
We clearly stated our demands regarding the appointments to the new Consulting
Committee and our general relationship to the Vocation Agency. (14) After only
a short time, Don said meekly, "It is obvious that we have made a real
mistake. I will recommend to the Board that CEW be requested to appoint
persons to the remaining five at-large spots on the Consulting Committee."
He also suggested that we have a meeting with some o-f the Vocation Agency
Board members to work out a better communication process. We were not with
Don more than half an hour, but we had been heard. (15)
We adjourned to the lounge downstairs and determined that we would
request that our invited CEW members not attend the ad hoc meeting to be held
in Louisville, and then we notified Mildred Grubbs (a staff member of the
Vocation Agency located in Columbus, Ohio) of our decision. The word got back
to Philadelphia before Annette and I returned that we had had a "sit in" in
Don's office. We were a little uncomfortable with that label being attached
to our confrontation, but in many ways it did describe what we had done.
2. Work on the Equal Employment Opportunity Program ; Barely having time
to celebrate our scrimmage with Don Smith, we requested an invitation (16) to
have input into the new Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action
Program (EEO/AAP) of the UPCUSA. We discovered that the denomination had paid
Project Equality *20,000 (a large amount in 1972) to develop the EEO/AAP
program, and the result was a program with not one mention of women. Annette
and I realized that we knew little about EEO/AAP, except in the most general
terms, so we asked Leon Calhoun, a Presbyterian layman who was a EEO/AAP
officer for the State of New York, to coach us. He agreed to help us, but the
only way we could meet him in Albany (because of financial restraints) was to
go directly before our trip to Denver in April, 1973, to attend the meeting of
the committee responsible for developing the EEO/AA Plan. We spent a night
gathering as much information from Leon as we could cram into our heads and
write down. When we arrived in Denver, we were "loaded for bear," and almost
every recommendation we made to the EEO/AAP Committee was approved. We -did
not know much, but we knew more than most of the members of the committee.
Those recommendations (See Appendix D. ) stood as part of the EEO/AA Plan of
the United Presbyterian Church until the merger with the Presbyterian Church,
U.S., in 1983.
3. Clergywomen" s Therapeutic Seminar : Another exciting CEW
accomplishment during that year which I spent in the Philadelphia was that I,
on behalf of CEW, approached Art Brown, top executive for the Board of
Pensions, (17) asking that the Board of Pensions fund an intensive
psychotherapy workshop led by Anne Wilson Schaef for clergywomen. We felt
that working in the church was putting clergywomen at real risk for emotional
and physical illnesses. We stated this belief clearly in our proposal:
...The thrust would be to deal with the internal psychological problems
from which women ministers suffer as a result of the pressures,
dehumanizing experiences, failures and disillusionments which they meet
while attempting to serve the church. It is important that this be an
experience particularly geared to women since many of the negative
experiences which they have in the church are due to the fact that they
are women trying to survive in a male-dominated profession.
We had wanted, -for some time, to have such a conference for clergywomen, but
neither individual clergywomen nor CEW could afford the price, thus the reason
for my negotiating with Art Brown. He and the Board approved a $7,600 grant
with the understanding that this conference would be under the supervision of
the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, the center where Presbyterian
employees covered by the church medical insurance (related to our Pension
Plan) had to go for all psychological evaluations, especially if they were
going into long-term therapy. We weren't happy with this stipulation, but we
had no alternative. We felt we could work around it.
We contracted with Anne Wilson Schaef and Sylvia Ginsparg, the only
woman psychologist on the Menninger staff, who agreed to work with us. When I
went to Menninger to scout out the situation, I was concerned about Sylvia's
lack of a feminist perspective, but she was all we had. After having had a
face-to-face meeting and several conference calls between the planning team,
it was clear that Anne and Sylvia would never be able to work together.
Sylvia finally realized this and said she could not be one of the therapists
for the conference; however, she agreed to be our liaison person with
Menninger, which was really a magnanimous offer because it meant that the
conference could still go on.
There were 17 clergywomen with Anne Schaef and Ann Seiden, a
psychiatrist from Chicago who was recruited at the last minute, as the
therapists who came together in June, 1973, for this week-long conference. We
■et in a «otel right next to Menninger. The only ti«es we went over to
Menninger were to be subjected to a pre-conference appraisal, a post-
conference evaluation, and an introductory film which all Menninger patients
had to see. It just happened to show all the doctors as «en and all the
patients as women. Our response to all three was incredulity. The pre-
conference appraisal was a very strange set of exercises, and we wanted to
know what they were all about. Our therapists asked, through Sylvia, if we
could be told about these tests. She said we would be told as soon as we had
■finished our final evaluation. When the time came, the Menninger doctors
refused to give us an explanation. This made us very angry; however, all of
us felt that our experience with our therapists was very helpful and
beneficial. Anne Wilson Schaef's evaluation of the program indicated that we
had experienced personal growth, theological reflection and increased
awareness of the power dynamics of institutions. Menninger had unknowingly
provided us with a wonderful laboratory experience of power dynamics. (18)
On the other hand, when the evaluations of the experience (to which I
was privy because I was the administrator o-f the conference) came through, I
was shocked. Anne and Ann, our therapists, had each written up 20 pages or
more of solid evaluations o-f the event, while Menninger sent a two-page
evaluation that made some very strange appraisals of the clergywomen. Based
on this strange battery of tests, they made outlandish claims that we were
hypochondriacs, had trouble with our sexual identities, and were emotionally
weak in various ways. I was appalled and went to Bill Henderson, a supportive
staff person at the Vocation Agency. He too was shocked by the Menninger
report. As a result of this experience, the Board of Pensions changed its
policy which had required everyone on the Pension Plan who needed intensive
therapy to go to Menninger for evaluations. However, only recently are those
who are to be hospitalized no longer required to go to Menninger. We had made
a great impact where we had not intended to. That was par for the course in
our struqqles; we never knew when or how our tactics would be effective.
4. Surveys of Our Constituencies : Another CEW effort that was to have
long lasting effects was to survey all local church secretaries in the UPCUSA
churches. Since their names were not recorded anywhere, our letter and
questionnaire were addressed to "church secretary" in care of every United
F'resbyterian Church. I think there were over 8,000 churches at that time, but
•any were too small to have a secretary. Still and all, we received 2,488
completed questionnaires. This was an outstanding return; a 10 percent return
of personally addressed mailed surveys is considered to be excellent. (19) (For
the results of the survey, see Appendix E.) The information we received was
invaluable for becoming informed about the needs of the secretaries, hany of
these secretaries became members of CEW and were active in more local
groupings of church employed women, which the Steering Committee encouraged
through our regional representatives. A number of regional conferences for
secretaries were held during those early years, and legislation was introduced
by CEW at General Assembly in 1973 to create personnel committees to address
the issues of non-clergy employees of the UF'CUSA at all levels. One synod
secretary registered her appreciation for the work which CEW was doing:
You can't imagine how excited and happy I was to see that three of our
synods are holding a conference for local church secretaries. I have
thought and talked about something like this for years! However, when
you are 'just the church secretary- or 'just the synod secretary' and
those who have the say in program for a synod aren't interested, nothing
comes of it. Most of our people have thought it was a pretty good idea,
but not really needed — at least not as much as some other kinds of
Later that same year, we sent out a similar questionnaire to Christian
£ducators, And even later, in 1973-74, ^lergywomen were surveyed. All of the
responses to these questionnaires reflected the realities of women employed by
the church, thereby giving guidance to CEW as it set its priorities and
strategies. This data was also used to make the esse -for -financial and
political support -for the organization when CEW was struggling to survive in
relationship to the Presbyterian bureaucracy.
5. The Hiring of the Coordinator of Employment Opportunities : During
the -fall o-f 1973, I was requested by Don Smith to suggest names o-f clergywomen
who might be considered -for the position o-f Coordinator of Employment
Opportunities, who, among other duties would staff the Consulting Committee on
Women Employed by the Church and provide placement services for women. We of
the CEW Steering Committee were well aware of the importance of this position,
so we consulted by phone about whom 1 might suggest. I finally submitted the
names of three clergywomen. Several weeks later Don called me to say that he
was thinking he would offer the job to a woman who had not been on our list
and whom I had met at the Clergywomen" s Therapeutic Seminar the previous
summer. I can remember being shocked by Don ? s choice, but realizing that I
had to keep a cool head about me or I could blow it. I mentioned some of her
skills, but I then went on to indicate that I had grave questions about this
particular woman in this particular position. I didn't believe she could
quickly and easily relate to people, a skill required to interview
clergywomen when they came for placement help. Don then said, "Well, I had
some questions about that too." I restrained myself from asking why, in that
case, he had decided to hire her. He then asked what we should do. I said we
needed to do another round of interviews for this position, and he agreed.
He asked -for some other nates because the woaen on the -first list I had
given him were either not available, did not have enough appropriate
experience, or had interviewed poorly. I told him I would get back to him
within a day or two. When I hung up, I wondered what CEW could do, since we
had given him the best names the -first time. Then I remembered two married
clergywomen, living away -from New York City, who would either have to move
with their families to New York or have to be willing to have commuter
marriages. After consulting with members of the Executive Committee of CEW, I
gave Don the names and held my breath. As it turned out, Ann Conrad was
willing to be interviewed. She had done some consulting work for CEW, so we
were familiar with her and her work. She lived in Philadelphia with her
husband, and she was willing to commute each day.
As it happened, she was to be interviewed sometime in January, 1974, (21)
close to the time that CEW' s Steering Committee was meeting in NYC. (22) I had
informed the Steering Committee of the fact that Ann had been interviewed, but
that I didn't know the outcome. During that meeting, Ann called to say that
she had been offered the position, but she didn't think she was going to take
it because they weren't willing to negotiate her hours and pay in relation to
commuting daily from Philadelphia. I told her to get on the next train to
NYC, and I would "talk turkey" to Edgar Ward, who was the Associate Director
of the Vocation Agency and was responsible for the hiring for this position.
I called up Ed and asked him how he liked Ann. He said he was very much
impressed and would like to hire her. I said, "Well, you had better negotiate
with her on her hours and pay or you're going to lose her. And you will be in
trouble with CEW; she is our choice! Ann is on her way to NYC at this moment,
*nd I know you will negotiate." He responded that he certainly would, but
there was some incredulity in his voice. Ann was hired that afternoon with
all of her requests being honored, and she held that position for 13 years
until the church headquarters aoved to Louisville in 1988. It was a heady
experience in so far as we were able to choose the person with whom we would
work on issues of women employed by the church.
6. The Layoffs on the National Staff : During those first months of Ann's
tenure, things seemed to be moving in a direction for which we had all
hoped. (23) There was one snag when an effort was made by the Consulting
Committee for Women Employed by the Church to get Ann seated in the Executive
Committee of the Vocation Agency Board. We were shot down, partly because we
depended on Ann to help to carry the request to the Board instead of allowing
her to recede into the woodwork during the debate. Also we had the audacity
to ask for one of "ours" to be allowed to enter the inner sanctum of power.
However, all in all, the first six months Ann was on board were good ones, but
then disaster struck!
During the General Assembly in May, 1974, it was made clear that the
denomination's budget had fallen unexpectedly short by $5 million which meant
probable layoffs. A large percentage of the staff had been hired only one
year before, some of them leaving behind good jobs and moving long distances
to join the national staff. CEW members were particularly shocked because we
had actually encouraged women to submit their dossiers for positions on the
national staff, for we believed the UPCUSA was serious about hiring women and
racial ethnic persons.
During that summer, chaos prevailed as councils, cabinets, and top
management tried to figure out what to do. (24) In the aeantime, an ad hoc
group of women on the national staff, who had «et together to support each
other and to strategize our presence on the national staff, came up with a
Nine-Month Plan, (See Appendix F.) whereby everyone would work for nine aonths
a year with a month of paid vacation. The other two months we would be free
to do consulting throughout the church or such personal projects as writing,
vegetating, etc. We would have all had to struggle a bit to make ends meet,
but we would have all had jobs. Our plan was thought to be an unique idea,
but never taken seriously. The die was already cast. Once again, although
women's constituencies were consulted, the -final decisions were in the hands
A large number o-F executive and support staff were laid off in the fall.
All of us who were executives were given 6 months full pay and benefits and
all kinds of special training money and placement help. (25) We called i-t
"guilt money." Not surprisingly, women and racial ethnic persons were
disproportionately laid off. The layoffs were said to be on the basis of
function rather than seniority, which meant that women and racial ethnic
persons had held marginal positions. (26) What is interesting is that almost
every white man who was laid off was "saved" in some way. They all ended up
with jobs of some sort while the women and racial ethnic persons were left to
our own devices. Those employees who kept their jobs had almost a worse tiae
than those of us who were laid off, because they were wounded from the process
and felt guilty about having their jobs under those particular circumstances.
(See Appendix 6 for CEW" s reaction to this period of UPCUSA's history.)
One agreement the women staff •embers had with the Director of the
Program Agency was that those who were terminated could take an ally with them
•for their termination interviews. Irthen I learned that I was to be terminated,
I asked Ann Conrad to go with me. Don Smith, General Director of the Vocation
Agency, and Oscar McCloud, General Director of the Program Agency, consulted
and decided that Ann couldn't go with me because she was on the Vocation
Agency staff and that would be embarrassing to the Program Agency. It was a
divide and conquer tactic, and it worked. Because Ann was new, she -felt she
had no political base to oppose the directive -from Don and Oscar. This was
probably true, but the impact o-f that decision on Anrrs relationship with CEW
was to be pro-found. The trust level was newly established. Four active
■embers o-f the CEW' s Steering Committee had lost their jobs, and Ann had hers.
She had been unable to be visible in her support; therefore she became
suspect. This tension continued -for years. In some very strange way the
person whom we had chosen to be our advocate was now perceived to be an
adversary within the establishment. The scars are deep, even though we 'are
now supportive and friendly colleagues. During our gathering of clergywomen
in Louisville in April, 1989, one of the former members of the PCUS who had
nothing to do with CEW used the following analogy with which to respond when
she heard this part of our history:
The Urban League in Atlanta ran a racism seminar that was written up in
the paper. When I read this little description, I thought, which I
often do with these things, that also shows how I feel as a woman. The
man who was leading the seminar picked a woman out of the audience and
had her kneel down and bow with a teacup on her head. She had to hold
her hand in a certain way, and do something else with the other hand.
All this was very awkward, and she was having a whole lot of trouble
with it. Then he asked the group to critique her. After they finished
with that, he said, "None of you mentioned the fact that I am the one
who put her in that position."
Then the clergywoman went on to say to Ann, "You were the woman on her knees.
CEW was also the woman on her knees. Nobody was critiquing who put you both
in that position."
Structural Relationships with the Church : There were «any ways in which
we struggled in relating to the structure of the United Presbyterian Church.
These structural issues faced CEW from the start, when the nature of the
relationship was in question, as reflected in the Early History section.
(Appendix B makes clear what the assumptions o-f the CEW Steering Committee
were in 1972. )
To complicate -further an already complex situation, the -first year I was
a chairwoman o-f CEW, we had our -first woman moderator of the General Assembly,
Ruling Elder Lois Stair. At -first, it seemed as if Lois would be a real
support to us, but as time went on it was clear that she had come up through
the male system and had been chosen by men as an acceptable "first". We had
experiences in which supportive men came to us to check out what we were
seeking at the G.A. level because they questioned Lois" interpretation of our
requests. We discovered that she acted very supportively when she was with
us, but consciously or unconsciously misrepresented us before the General
Assembly Mission Council (GAMC), which made recommendations to the total G.A.
about structural relationships with and financial support of constituency
funding projects. Sometimes she did not even cover her adversary role in
relation to us. Annette Wall remembers being beckoned to defend CEW to the
GAMC during the General Assembly of 1973. She still recalls it as a
"horrifying experience" in which she alone faced Lois and her male colleagues
from the GAMC. (We tried never to have one person left alone to fight for CEW.
No one can recall how this happened on this important occasion.) During
Annette's statement, Lois made asides to the effect that CEW was just an
organizing group, like a labor union. Lois' behavior led directly to the
fcAMC's rejection of our request (in July, 1973) <for a more formal relationship
within the structure of the church with continuing funding. (See Appendix H. )
At this point CEW was forced to accept that we would not be a formal part of
the structure so we sought to have Chapter 28 status granted to voluntary
groups of Presbyterians. (27)
As mentioned earlier, another struggle was in building a relationship
with the Vocation Agency, with whom we had an o-f-ficial relationship even
though we had no structural location. Following the conflict over CEW's
appointments to the Consulting Committee on Women employed by the Church, CEW
met with a -few members of the Vocation Agency Board to insure better
communication in the future. CEW was invited to do some consciousness raising
(around the issues of women employed by the church) at the full Board Meeting.
As we planned for that gathering, we did not know we were dealing with such
volatile issues. Looking back on it, I believe that our existence was yery
intimidating to some. When we led a session, many of the Board members acted
like unruly teenagers. At one point, a CEW member was leading a prayer, and
some of the Board members tittered and laughed. Over a period of time, some
of the Vocation Agency Board members became very supportive of our concerns,
but it was only after many encounters.
Those first years of CEW' s existence, were a time of denominational
restructuring; there were vacuums of power, and we were, sometimes, able to
take creative advantage of the disarray. Because some of our demands were
met, we thought that we were making headway. We trusted the church; therefore
we did not have our guard up, leaving us vulnerable. In some ways we were
making changes, but in another sense the power dynamics remained unchanged.
In the late '70s I heard a lecture by Noam Chomsky (a professor of linguistics
at Boston University) that helped me understand the phenomenon CEW had
experienced during those early years. Chomsky stated that those in power will
make small shifts in response to the demands of those hurt by the
institutional structures of a society. These small shifts usually pacify
those making the demands because the shifts seem bigger from their perspective
than they really are or they believe that such shifts are harbingers of bigger
shifts to come. In reality, declared Chomsky, the small shifts are still
within the "margin of oppression," permitting the power dynamics to remain the
same while deluding the opposition.
This is exactly what occurred in the UPCUSA in relation to the demands
of CEW. For example, the EEO/AA Plan, which we worked so hard to impact,
stood only for ten years and disappeared in the 1983 merger between the UPCUSA
and the Presbyterian Church in the United States (our Southern cousin from
whom we had been split over the Civil War). What was fascinating was that the
white, liberal clergymen who had supported Civil Rights and Women's Rights
were at the forefront of the reunion forces which were willing to sacrifice
everything, including the hard-fought gains of women and racial ethnics, for
the sake of reunion. One injustice (that of racism as fought over in the
Civil War) was mended by creating more injustice! It is not surprising that
many of the most "radical" clergywomen and women elders voted against reunion,
not because we were opposed to our denominations joining together once again,
but because the plan of reunion was unjust.
Financial Struggles : One constant struggle for CEW was to get enough
funding through a small annual membership fee ($5.00 per woman) and grants
from various parts of the church. Most of the money, after the restructure,
came from the Vocation Agency or the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity,
either through CEW" s proposing projects that needed to be done in relation to
women employed by the church and asking to be funded or through the Vocation
Agency or the Office of EEO proposing that we do a project they wanted done
for which they would pay us. We were constantly having negotiations with Don
Smith, the General Director of the Vocation Agency, or Bob Hoppe, Director of
the Office of EEO.
We badly needed funds just to get the Steering Committee, together so we
would always agree to carry out tasks and studies that the V.A. or EEO wanted
done. As a result, we had to respond to their agenda. They, many times,
didn't really seem pleased with the work we did; subtle comments would be made
about it not being complete. It seemed as if they felt we should not only
make proposals and recommendations but that we also should be able to solve
the problems of employed women in the F'CUSA. The victims should solve the
problems! There was an implicit, if not explicit, control on our agenda?
Don Smith and Bob Hoppe heard some of our concerns, but they had to
operate within a decidedly sexist system. We were constantly preoccupied
about securing funds. In our work with Bob Hoppe, the Director of the Equal
Employment Office, some of our unemployed members were employed as consultants
to do work for him. The agreement was that these members would be paid a very
good salary for that work, and would give some of it to CEW for our brokering
of the contracts.
More and more, CEW was compromised because we had no money or staff. (28)
In our very effort to remain viable so as to challenge the ways things were,
we had to take money from two sources, the denomination (Vocation Agency and
Office of EEO) and COWAC. We were more and more aware of how our work for the
denoainational entities compromised our effectiveness in naming the oppression
perpetrated by the denomination and its boards, agencies and councils. Less
clear to us was that by giving us grants to do some of our pilot ministry
projects, COWAC was also determining our agenda. No longer was CEW able to
maintain its autonomy nor were we allowed to do our work on employment issues
unencumbered. For example, COWAC decided to do a study of the denominational
seminaries without ever acknowledging that this was an area in which CEW and
COWAC should, at least, be working together.
Power Dynamics Within CEW : A complicating -factor in the second year I
served as co-chair was that Fay Noack, the other co-chairwoman of CEW,
continued to be our representative to COWAC. Thus she filled two roles, both
of which held a lot of power in our organisation but which were sometimes
contradictory. She was COWAC s coordinator of the seminary study as well as
the one COWAC appointed (without consulting with the CEW Steering Committee)
to supervise one of CEW's pilot ministry projects. I sensed that we as -an
organization were being co-opted more and more by the denomination and COWAC,
but others on the Steering Committee did not understand my concern. Finally I
resigned before completing my second term as co-chairwoman. Unfortunately,
the result was that I was never replaced, and the by-laws were changed soon
thereafter to allow for one chairwoman and one vice chairwoman, each of whom
could be in office for two years with a third-year extension possible. A more
hierarchical organization developed from then on, with one person in charge
with less accountability. At the very time when there was someone in office
who was amassing power, the organization relinquished its own power. Fay only
relinquished her power in CEW when she was elected chair of COWAC, which was a
position with more status. If one looks at the description of the kinds of
endeavors done by CEW from this point on, one finds evidence that CEW's
radicality had been neutralized. No longer was there *n effort to bring about
transformative change. The focus got placed more and more on education and
moving the furniture around. Any unique programs had been initiated or
dreaaed about during the former, more radical, years. (An analysis of the life
of CEW (1972-1974 is -found in Appendix I.)
1. It was five employed women in the Philadelphia Office of the UF'CUSA who
back in the late r 60s pushed the denomination to address the issue of the role
and status of women both in church and society which led to special
commissions. The work of these commissions resulted in the appointment of
the Task Force on Women mentioned throughout this chapter. (This information
was given to me by Maggie Kuhn, who was one of the five women.)
2. Elizabeth Verdesi and Lillian Taylor, Our Rightful Place; The Story of
Presbyterian Women, 1970-1963 <New York and Atlanta: Presbyterian
Church(U.S.A.) 1985, p. 17.
3. Ibid, pp. 18-19.
4. Lois A. Boyd and R. Douglas Brackenr idge, Presbyterian Women in America
(Westport: Greenwood Press, 1983), p. 220.
5. CEW failed to address the issue of race as well as it did that of class.
Efforts were made to encourage women of color to join us, but we were not
aware of our white privilege. Also at that time relatively few women of color
were employed by the UPCUSA. (Most of those who were, were secretaries.) For
example, the first woman of color was not ordained as a minister until 1974,
and she was Katie Cannon!
6. Elizabeth Verdesi and Lillian Taylor, Our Rightful Place , p. 19.
8. For example, Joyce Manson, member of the CEW Steering Committee, wrote a
report, part of which appeared in the newsletter in January, 1973.
Last spring, my count shows that there are 7 clergywomen and 86
clergymen on 13 agencies and 39 lay women (none of whom I have any
evidence is church employed) and 80 laymen on 13 agencies. .. .Preliminary
inquires indicate that no clergywoman has ever served on the national
9. CEW's relationship with UPW was, indeed, checkered. Sometimes UPW was
#ost helpful and other times the National Executive Committee hindered us in
our efforts whether knowingly or unknowingly.
10. Elizabeth Verdesi and Lillian Taylor, Our Rightful Place , p. 42.
11. Among our trips was one to Grailville in Loveland, Ohio, where we got
training in Saul Alinsky's theories of social change. We were really big time
at that point! The leaders actually used CEW as a «odel for our discussions.
12. Pat Kepler not only gave us some staffing support but she also gave us a
theological base for our work. She usually had good political sense which she
shared with us as we tried to get through the snarl of Presbyterian politics.
13. This gathering was ostensibly called to address women's issues related to
the Vocation Agency. It was instigated by Mildred Grubbs, a clergywomar
working out of the Columbus Office related to the Vocation Agency. With
hindsight, it would seem that she was working unilaterally in such a way as
consciously or unconsciously to undermine CEW' s credibility and effectiveness.
14. The list of concerns which the Steering Committee took with them when they
confronted Don Smith (as recorded in the minutes of the January, 1973,
•eeting) were -as follow:
1. CEW representation on the Consulting Committee on Women Employed by
2. We speak for the largest constituency. Others at the ad hoc meeting
were representing themselves.
3. The church structure must go through channels women have already
4. Lack of agenda clarification of Kentucky meeting.
5- Lack of clarity of representation of Kentucky meeting.
6. Lack of clarity re authority of Kentucky meeting.
7. Not representative of all women (Church educators were not invited).
8. Illegitimate response to CEW proposal.
9. No official action was taken on the official referral of our proposal
by C-ll (a committee responsible for the restructuring the national
level of the UPCUSA).
10. No CEW representation on EEO Advisory Committee.
11. We refuse to deal with EEO Committee on which CEW is not
15. In April, 1973, the Vocation Agency Board acted to affirm the relationship
it had with CEW and requested CEW to appoint five members of Consulting
Committee. We did so, and we attended the first meeting of the Consulting
Committee in May, 1973, at which one of the suggestions was that we have a
church welfare program for unemployed women. This reflects how desperate the
situation was for many church employed women at that point.
16. I believe we made this request at the insistence of Willa Roghair, past
co-chair of CEW, who was serving on the EEO/AAP Committee.
17. Art Brown turned out to be one of the executives of the UPCUSA who was the
■ost supportive to CEW 7 s causes. Before his retirement he supported the idea
of a median income level as the base for pension payments. All ministers who
fell beneath that eedian in their career income would receive pensions as
though they had made the wedian income. This potentially had a great impact
on the future incomes of many clergywomen, because we are among those who may
not have received the aedian income during our careers.
18. As indicated in her evaluation of the program.
19. I have done sociological research and know what is considered to be a good
20. Recorded in the February, 1974, CEW newsletter.
21. We speculated in December, 1989, why this position was -filled a good six
months after most positions at this level had been filled.
22. As an aside, I would like to mention that at this meeting, CEW considered
an important issue. We dealt with the concerns of employed women who were
lesbians, and we actually asked a lesbian national staff member to join our
Steering Committee with that particular focus. It is interesting that in the
October, 1974, minutes of a Steering Committee meeting, there seems to be
retrenchment indicated when making decisions about topics for newsletter
series. (Layoffs had just occurred.):
It was felt that the concerns which gay women and others who are
advocates for gay rights have concerning church employment could best be
fed into a "lifestyle" series after the series had begun rather than at
the beginning. We also need to do some preliminary interpretative, work
in regions on this issue.
23. Ann's analysis was that her job, according to the Vocation Agency, was to
find jobs for women outside the church. Dorothy Gist was to be her assistant.
Ann set Dorothy free to find jobs for women outside the church. Ann focused
on making the systemic changes in the church so women could get jobs in the
church. She determined that if the nature of the church, the nature of the
ministry and the nature of theological education were changed then women could
get jobs within the system. (I might add, just a small task!) Ann indicated
this to me in December, 1989, as she took notes of that period in CEW's
24. Leon Faniel, Executive Director of the General Assembly Mission Council,
resigned and became the fall guy for the budget problems. He was a black
minister who had been programmed for failure; the institutional racism was
clearly evident. Wm. P. Thompson, Stated Clerk of the denomination, became
Interim Executive Director of the GAMC, without going on leave from his other
position, which was to create an impossible administrative snarl. He was left
free to have the final word as Stated Clerk on the correctness of his own
behavior in another position during a crucial time within the life of the
25. Carol Ames as editor of the CEW newsletter reflected on what happened to
support staff who were terminated:
Finally, the editor would like to comment on the invisibility of non-
exempt (clerical) staff in this whole process. Seventeen of us
(including editor) have been terminated, according to official report
(issued in Presbyterian News Service, Monday Mornino , A.D. . etc.) It
was expected that a number might be transferred to other jobs within the
agencies — I don't know how many that affects to date. In all these
reports, none of our positions were listed, nor any of our names
(though, both were given for exempt staff), although many of us also
have contacts with numbers of people in the judicatories and church at
large and some have worked longer for the church at the national level
than have many of the exempt staff (a number of whom were terminated
within a year of hiring). This also prevents us -from even knowing who
each other are, -for support or for any joint actions, etc., we Bight
have wished to follow. Also, the personnel guidelines were modified for
this series of terminations, providing extra benefits for all staff
(interview expenses, counseling, expenses for some education to improve
qualifications, etc.): the termination pay benefits were improved for
exempt staff only — from 3 months normal termination salary to 6 months
in this instance — but left at one month for non-exempt staff (it is
supposed to be easier for us to find other jobs). It occurred to me
that since exempt salaries are usually at least twice as high as non-
exempt that this works out to a ratio of 12 to one!
26. Because Annette and I had been the co-chairwoman of CEW when hiring was
done for the national staff, we had encouraged women and racial ethnic persons
to apply for positions. When the layoffs occurred, I felt it was necessary
for as many people as possible in the denomination to know what had gone on in
relation to women and racial ethnic persons. I allowed New York City
Presbytery to file a judicial case against Wm. P. Thompson, Oscar McCloud, the
General Director of the Program Agency, and the Program Agency Board in my
name as well as in the name of two others, including Joyce Hanson from CEW.
It took one year for us to gc through all of the hoops. In the end, the
General Assembly Judicial Commission found our case untimely because we should
have done in thirty days what had taken us one year to do. It was really a
technicality that disenfranchised us, but three of the members of the
Commission voted for us while none voted to support the defendants in the
case. We felt we had won a moral victory, and folks around the country did
know that something strange had happened in the layoffs.
27. We obtained Chapter 26 status in 1974 only to have it withdrawn a couple
of years later because some women employed by the church were not
Presbyterians. Chapter 28 organizations were supposed to be made up of
Presbyterians. Since some of our secretaries came from other denominations,
the organization was disqualified from this status!
28. We continued to try to get foundation grants so we could be more
independent, but we failed because there were few foundations which would give
us funds for operating expenses.
The Relationship Between Liberal Feminism and Feminist Liberation
In this chapter I wish to de-fine Liberal Feminism and Feminist
Liberation, to show how I think they relate to each other politically and to
indicate why I am presently attempting to stand within Feminist Liberation.
As mentioned in the Introduction, I have been struggling -for some time with
the relationship between Liberal Feminism and Feminist Liberation. I -feel as
i-f I have lived most of my li-fe within the parameters of Liberal Feminism, the
first 30 years of which I was not aware of my -feminist inclinations; and in
the last couple o-f years, I have -found that analysis wanting. I -find mysel-f
more consistently moving into the flow of Feminist Liberation, and I find the
analysis, commitments, and strategies called for in Feminist Liberation more
satisfying for me and more effective as I work for justice in our world.
Schema of Comparison : After much reading of feminist theory and much
thought about my own experience and that of other feminists, I created a
schema of comparison between Liberal Feminism and Feminist Liberation. (1) I
know that this schema is not a perfect statement of these two worldviews, but
it has been a good beginning point for my work. I want to state from the
outset that I am not suggesting that any program or person embodies the
elements of either worldview completely nor should that be a goal. These
-descriptions are used to point out the tendencies found in each stance. The
reality is that aost feminists flow back and forth between these two
worldviews; however, some remain consistently «ore with one stance than the
other. Neither are these two stances entirely distinct, for there is a
fluidity of boundaries between the two. (2)
1. Individualism : Assume that humans
are separate social beings who know
their own desires and can Fulfill
them in isolation From other
individuals and their desires.
Maximizing of individual autonomy
equality, and -fulfillment is the
goal. The focus politically is put
on special interest groups and their
1. Community : Affirm the necessity
of social relationships (social web;
to the well-being of human beings.
Assume a dialectical relationship
between the needs and desires of
individuals and those of the
community. Hove toward the
wholeness of individuals within the
transformed community. Acknowledge
the interlocking of oppressions and
the need for collaboration within
coalitions to end oppression and to
bring about liberation. Recognize
that equal relations are impossible
in an oppressive society.
2. Reformism : Believe that the
system can work for women and other
oppressed persons if the correct
formula is found. Small adjustments
and corrections of the existing
system can bring about the changes
that are necessary to end oppression
and inequality. Have little or no
power analysis, and often look to
those in power to participate in the
liberation of the oppressed. Tend
to be cautious while seeking
2. Revolutionary Change : Use a
hermeneutic of suspicion, especially
in relation to the system. Are
aware of institutional oppression
and use a power analysis as the base
point for liberating strategies.
Aim toward ending the sexist,
racist, classist, and heterosexist
domination present in the existing
system. Believe that the oppressed
are liberated by struggling with
those in power. A process filled
with risk-taking and death-defying
leaps which moves beyond gradualism
3. Rationality : The focus is on the
■ind. Usually there is a mind-body
dualism in which the body is seen as
of secondary importance.
3. Embodiment : See the body, mind
and spirit as a gestalt. What
persons believe and think is brought
to its fullness in their bodies,
sexuality, sensuality and erotic
4. Comrounality : Attempt to discover
the sameness among persons because
the notion of equality is based on
that sameness. When such commona-
lity isn't found, then there is a
push for assimilation. The
political goal is social and
political equality with white,
middle-strata heterosexual men.
4. Particularity ; Attempt to show
how we are different, to respect the
particularity of each person rather
than to ignore and deny such dif-
ferences, and to recognize the rich-
ness and complexity which these
particularities bring to the com-
munity. The political goal is to
value and use the lived experience
of all persons, especially those on
the margin, to transform the
5. Nationalism : Focus is on life and
politics in this country with little
concern for or awareness of the rest
of the world.
5. Global Awareness : Believe that
what happens in this country impacts
persons around the world and vice
versa. There is a special concern
for the impact of the U.S. imperia-
lism on the lives of persons
worldwide and a profound commitment
6. Pluralism : Perceive persons and
groups as clustered isolated units
who impact each other, usually
negatively, in terms of competition
for the scarce resources allotted by
thobt in power.
6. Interdependence : Aware that what
happens to one person impacts every-
one else, both positively and nega-
tively. Persons are very much
related and when we work together in
right-relation to one another, to
all earth creatures and to the earth
itself, scarcity and the need for
competition are reduced. The
sharing of resources and power are
7. Elitism : Puts focus of the
political movement on women with the
most privilege in society. The
masses of poor women and women of
color are left out of consideration.
7. Harqinality : See all women as
marginal within society, but focus
is placed on women with the least
privilege. Have a commitment to pay
special attention to the experience
of those most marginalized when
determining strategies and
8. Evolutionary : The attitude
toward history is gradual and
incremental. What happened
in the oast was then and has
little relation to now. Have more
of a sense of watching history
unfold rather than taking respon-
sibility as agents of history.
8. Transf ormation : The attitude
toward history includes an under-
standing of the past as essential
for the work necessary to bring
about transformation in the
present/future. An oppositional
worldview provides the vision and
hope for human agency in the
buildinQ of a new social order.
Moving Toward Feminist Liberation : Having acknowledged that persons
flow in and out of Liberal Feminism and Feminist Liberation, and that th.ese
worldviews are intertwined, I want to make it clear again that I have a
preference for Feminist Liberation for a number of reasons. It has often
been said (even in my Introduction) that seeds of Feminist Liberation are
found in Liberal Feminism, but more and more I have trouble with that imagery.
It would seem to indicate that one moves through liberalism to liberation in
some natural progression, but I question this view.
In my opinion, a better image of the connection between Liberal Feminism
and Feminist Liberation might be that of finding oneself encapsulated in a
clay pot (liberalism), and through proper conditions cracks develop in that
pot. We who find ourselves enveloped in liberalism (including Liberal
Feminism) in this society must ask what are the conditions that make the pot
develop cracks, and even more important, what are the factors which would
enable us to look through the cracks toward Feminist Liberation And then to
I would propose that cracks develop in the pot because of the internal
contradictions found in liberalism itself. A good illustration of such a
contradiction would be white, middle-strata Liberal Feminists working hard on
behalf of Equal Rights for women while somehow ignoring the racist and
classist assumptions and strategies used to win such a battle. (3) As a
result, their fight for Equal Rights often fails to include the concerns or
insights of poor and racial ethnic women. When we white, middle-strata
feminists are wise enough to listen to women of color and poor sisters and
brave enough to challenge one another, then the crack can be identified and
critiqued. Such a challenge is reflected in a speech given by Barbara Smith
at the NWSA conference in May, 1979:
The reason racism is a feminist issue is easily explained by the
inherent definition of feminism. Feminism is the political theory' and
practice to free all women: women of color, working-class women, poor
women, physically challenged women, lesbians, old women, as well as
white economically privileged heterosexual women. Anything less than
this is not feminism, but merely female self-aggrandizement. (4)
Factors Blocking the Movement : Moving from the confined pot of liberalism to
the expansive arena of liberation is not a foregone conclusion. Most white,
middle-strata U.S. citizens do not choose to take advantage of the cracks to
see and embrace the new reality even if they discern the cracks. It is much
like the seeds found in pots in Egyptian tombs that do not germinate for
thousands of years because the conditions are not propitious for their growth,
In my native desert home, there are seeds which may not germinate for years
until the right conditions of water, sun, and sand occur. So it is in our
personal lives and in our communities, -for there are social, political and
economic forces that help to determine our readiness to find and nurture the
seeds of liberation. As one of ay colleagues said, "Sure you can have seeds
of liberation in liberalism, but there is no assurance that those seeds will
ever blossom. They could remain dormant forever. Also we aust reaember that
the seeds must die in order to come to a new reality."
So long as we are in the pot of liberalism and do not recognize the
cracks or the realities outside of that pot, we remain unchanged in any
significant way. Robert Terry(5) uses a diagram in his study o-f racism which
I have modified to be used in my work about liberalism and liberation. The
modified diaqram is found below:
In this schema there is no problem in finding ways to be actively unjust in
this society; they are multitudinous, and most of us can also identify what
would be real acts of active justice. Although many of us, especially
liberals, do not wish to be actively unjust, we are afraid of the risks
involved in being actively implicated in being about acts of liberation
necessary to create a just society. As a result, we become passive in our
justice-doing, and therein lies the problem because no such possibility
exists. One cannot be passive and bring about change. The result is that we
end up supporting the status quo, which means we are being passively unjust
because the society in which we live is unjust. To leave things as they are
is to be involved in doing injustice. As Sartre once wrote, "Not to decide is
to decide. "(6) To leave things as they are is to support the evil in our
society. The gravity pull is down from active liberation to the status
Many Liberal Feminists and their communities have the right mindset in
terms of not wanting injustice, but their aotivation, courage, and insight are
not great enough to overcome the gravitational pull toward the status quo.
That is what is so painful about being caught in Liberal Feminism. One's
vision may be right on in many respects, but one is unable to move
intentionally and effectively toward that vision. Many Liberal Feminists
perceive the cracks in liberalism, but do not move through those cracks to
embrace new life. This inability (or choice) often results in physical,
spiritual and emotional illnesses, which are initially often experienced as
burnout. (8) This situation is caused by a desire for safety and the fear of
risk which in turn results in denial, distortion of values, dishonesty and
I also believe that liberals (including feminists) are more apt to get
caught up in the desire to have all the parts of their lives, theories, and
strategies to fit much like a person who tries to get all of the pieces of a
jigsaw puzzle to fit, rather than being free to take a number of pieces out in
order to see the picture from a different perspective. Over the years it has
been a surprise to me to discover that liberals can display an ideological
rigidity which surpasses that of so called conservatives. (9) As a result,
they are often unable to flow in a liberating and empowering manner. They get
stuck in the encapsulated thinking of the pot of liberalism.
Factors Facilitating the Hovement : Some of those factors that,
depending upon what we Are able to make of them, might contribute to our being
open to looking through the cracks rather than hurrying to »end the* would be
travel outside of the U.S. in the Third World, the decision to do civil
disobedience, the recovery process in relation to addiction, facing
potentially death-rendering circumstances, accepting the reality of being or
choosing to be a lesbian, facing some social disgrace, etc. Any of these
experiences might lead to the jarring of one's categories and/or to cognitive
and emotional dissonance. Being in such a state can open one to the risks and
challenges o-f entering the arena of Feminist Liberation. I choose to call
this process o-f perceiving and entering that arena o-f liberation "passionate
However, as I have mentioned, moving into the sphere of liberation is
not automatic. It involves a death o-f much we have known as normal in the
past. (10) If we force our way out through the cracks of the pot, it will no
longer exist in our lives. We then can no longer be satisfied with the
criteria, analysis and commitments associated with Liberal Feminism. Chrystos
vividly describes this process of breaking into a new reality in her poem,
"Give Me Back," as reflected in these lines:
mal mama spirit stole my bones put them in her burying jug
sealed me up in wax & ashes
I crack out
I arrange my bones in their naming places
I take what I want
shaking my sacred hair dancing out taboo
I mark out the space I am
Once we have pushed our way out of the pot, then we are free to discover
the breadth and depth of Feminist Liberation. I think that we will discover
that a commitment to Feminist Liberation is one of the best ways to get us out
of the oppressive cycle which I described earlier. We can move out beyond the
failure of liberals to challenge significantly the way things are. -4«Je can
begin to define new criteria, analyses, and commitments to provide us -guidance
for our passionate living.
The greatest danger is that Liberal Feminism often eclipses Feminist
Liberation, «uch the way that the «oon can eclipse the sun, so that it is most
difficult to capture a vision of Feminist Liberation. It seems as if it is
only when we are knocked out of our usual line of vision, as a billiard ball
is ricocheted around a billiard table that we can clearly envision Feminist
Liberation. Once again, it is jarring experiences which turn our universe
upside down, thereby allowing us a new perspective. The embracing o-f Feminist
Liberation can be experienced as a form o-f recovery, spiritual awakening, or
political conversion, which are not mutually exclusive.
Having said all this, I want to say again that although I may state my
case strongly above, I am not saying that Liberal Feminism has no merit.
Liberal -feminists have been, at times, the only ones who have pointed to a
liberating vision or taken action in an oppressive situation. As I mentioned
before, there are glimmers of light within Liberal Feminism, but they tend to
reflect movement toward Feminist Liberation. I recognize the danger that I
may romanticize Feminist Liberation; however, within the context of the U.S.,
I believe the greater danger is that we will fail to challenge the liberal
ideology which permeates and distorts much of our feminist analysis and
My goal in this thesis is to explore further the relation of Liberal
Feminism to Feminist Liberation, to see how this connection is or is not
reflected in the lives of white, middle-strata clergywomen, and to consider
what difference it would make if we chose to push out through the cracks of
Liberal Feminism to embrace Feminist Liberation, to embrace passionate living.
1. For this work I am indebted to the thoughts and writing of Alison Jagqer,
Katie Cannon, Bell Hooks, Carter Heyward and Charlotte Bunch.
2. There is a close relationship among some o-F the elements I have used in the
schema, such as Reformism — Revolutionary Change and Evolution — Transformation.
However, I have tried to make it clear in my descriptions and in my use of
them that there are distinctions between these elements.
3. One of the most helpful books for my understanding of this contradiction
was Daughters of Jefferson, Daughters of Bootblacks by Barbara Andolsen. It
was in this book that I was able to see tne history of the white feminist
movement as it developed in the 19th Century and continued to manifest the
same contradictions in the 20th Century.
4. Cherrie Moranga and Gloria Anzaldua, eds. , This Bridge Called tiy Back:
Writings by Radical Women of Color (Watertown: Persephone Press, 1981), p. 61.
5. The Cornwall Collective, Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: Feminist
Alternatives in Theological Education (New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1980), p.
6. I saw this on a poster; therefore I have no idea in what context it was
said or written.
7. Ronald Harstin has stated this clearly when he says, "The faith that does
not remake society is the faith that confirms the present social arrangement."
Ronald Marstin, Beyond Our Tribal Gods: The Haturinq of Faith (Maryknoll:
Orbis Books, 1982), p. 86.
8. I want to acknowledge that liberationists can experience burnout too, but
there is a reduced probability when they are working within the context of
community. The demands of liberation are shared, and the potential for
support are increased.
9. It was at a lecture given by Virginia ttollenkott at the Evangelical Women's
Caucus in July, 1988, that I began to see the relationship between the
thinking of conservatives and liberals. As hollenkott critiqued the thinking
of fundamentalists, I realized how similar it was to the thinking of liberals.
This lecture was the "aha" experience for me which helped me understand why I
had such a problem with liberalism. It helped me to crystalize my questions
which are central to this thesis.
10. Julia Esquivel of Guatemala reflects the painful and hopeful process of
change in these words:
Those of us who, through our experience, have come to understand the
need for real and profound change in the Central American social and
political structures, and who want to commit our whole lives to this
task, have undergone severe, painful and often profound changes in our
own lives and personalities. We have lived through experiences of death
and resurrection, like that of the Pascal mystery. All death is
painful. It is separation. It is rupture. It is being buried. On the
other hand, resurrection is life; it is hope.
Julia Esquivel, "Christian Women and the Struggle for Justice in Central
America," in Diana L. Eck and Devaki Jain, eds., Speaking of Faith
(Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1987), p. 22.
11. Cherrie iioranga and Gloria Anzaldua, eds., This Bridge Called Hv Back , p.
The Journey Toward Feminist Liberation:
The Lives and Work of Three Feminist Liberation Theologians
Introduction ; When I First contemplated writing a thesis on the topic
of Feminist Liberation, I knew that it would be very important For ne to look
not only to my own experience and to that of other white, middle-strata
Presbyterian Feminist clergywomen but also to those women who struggle to live
out Feminist Liberation as well as reflecting it in their developing and.
writing of Feminist Liberation Theology. After much thought I chose three
women whose lives and work I wished to study in order to understand the
journey one takes toward Feminist Liberation. I chose three women whom I
respect and whose books and public presentations I've had a chance to engage
over a period of 10-15 years: Carter Heyward, Letty Russell, and Dorothee
Soelle. I am honored that each one gave me the support of her time, energy
and thought in granting me an extended interview.
I developed a schedule of questions which I used in my face-to-face
interviews with Carter Heyward and Letty Russell and in interviewing Dorothee
Soelle by mail (she sent me a tape of her responses). Having each of these
women respond to these questions was a profound experience in itself,
especially when I was able to interact face-to-face with them, as with Heyward
and Russell. The questions which I asked were:
1. Describe yourself right now in terms of where you are personally and
interpersonally. What are your priorities? What are your burning
issues? Where do you spend your energy?
2. What are the basic norms of your ethics? Have they changed much over
the years? If so, in what ways have they changed?
3. Have there been significant shifts (shifts in paradigm or worldview)
in your adult life, especially in the last 10-15 years? If so, describe
these shifts and the impact they have had on you.
4. In considering the shift between Liberal Feminism and Feminist
Liberation, can you describe your journey? What were/are the factors
which compel and -facilitate your movement in the direction of Feminist
Liberation? What were/are the blocks? What fears stood/stand in your
way? What are the risks involved?
5. What are the early influences which would point to your becoming a
Feminist Liberationist? What seeds were planted?
6. Have you participated in civil disobedience? If so, what were the
factors which influenced you to do so? How did you understand your
action? What impact did this experience have on your life in general?
If not, what circumstances, if any, would compel you to participate in
7. When you envision yourself 20 years from now, who do you see? How
would you. have liked to have spent your time and energy? What personal
and societal issues will have received most of your attention?
8. Audre Lorde sees the erotic as power, a source of creation and
liberation. Do you agree? If so, in what ways in your life has the
erotic/sensual/sexual been experienced as a source of
creation/liberation/power? Are there ways in which the erotic,
spiritual, and vocational have been linked in such a way in your life as
to be empowering to you and others? Where have they been in conflict?
Some of these questions were the same as those I asked the clergywomen' s group
to respond to, while others were different. (The clergywomen - ' s responses are
the base for Chapter IV.) I formulated these questions with the hope of
eliciting responses that would help me to better understand Feminist
Liberation as reflected in the lives of these three women as well as making
clearer to me what was involved in the journey toward Feminist Liberation.
In this chapter I propose to use the materials I gathered in my
interviews with the three theologians, along with selections from their
writings, to indicate how the elements of Feminist Liberation are reflected in
their lives and work. In this way, I hope to flesh out what I mean by
Feminist Liberation. I will close the chapter in reporting the self-
perception of each theologian of how she has journeyed into the arena of
In Chapter II I described the elements of Feminist Liberation as
distinct -from Liberal Feminism, realising that there is no sharp demarcation
between the two and that people usually don't experience leaping from one to
another, leaving the other behind. In most cases people tend to move back and
•forth between the two worldviews, which include priorities, values, strategies
and commitments. Without programming it to be so, I discovered that the
white, middle-strata Presbyterian clergywomen in my group <as will be
described in Chapter IV) re-flect, in most ways, the elements o-f Liberal
Feminism. In this chapter, through describing the lives and work o-f three
Feminist Liberation theologians, I wish to raise some possibilities -for
theoloqic&l movement that might inform and stretch the faith and work of all
white, middle-strata Presbyterian clergywomen committed to justice for all
The Elements of Feminist Liberation as Reflected by Three Feminist
Liberation Theologians : I will restate each of the elements of Feminist
Liberation and share how the three Feminist Liberation theologians have helped
me better to understand the implications of each element. There is some
overlap among these elements; therefore I will attempt to avoid repetition as
I describe them.
Community : Affirm the necessity of social
relationships (social web) to the well-being
of human beings. Assume a dialectical
relationship between the needs and desires
of individuals and those of the community.
Move toward Ihe wholeness of individuals
within the transformed community. Acknow-
ledge the interlocking of oppressions and
the need for collaboration within coali-
tions to end oppression *nd to bring about
liberation. Recognize that equal relations
are impossible in an oppressive society.
I chose to put "community" as ay -first element of Feminist Liberation
because one o-f the most pro-found manifestations o-f Liberal Feminism is its
individualism. Our society is built on the philosophy o-f the Enlightenment,
and has taken individualism about as -far as it can go. Heyward reflects souse
of the problems with the individualism found in Liberal Feminism and how it
would contrast to a more radical feminism:
Feminism is liberal in that it is — and must be — a movement for equal
rights in a society founded upon ideals of liberty and justice for all
individuals, regardless of how far short it may fall in terms of racial,
sexual, or economic inequity. Feminism is radical in that it threatens
to bring down the sexual class system that provides the underpinning of
social structures which have little to do with the rights and abilities
of individuals, and everything to do with segregation by sex, race, and
Another critique of the individualism of Liberal Feminism is found in
Soelle's response to my interview question regarding Liberal Feminism
It (Liberal Feminism) orients itself only in regard to one's own career,
so in a way it never transcends the basic presumption of liberalism,
which is individualism. It doesn't understand our history as our
collective history. It doesn't understand our roots as collective
roots. It doesn't understand our salvation and hope as our collective
salvation and hope for the whole of God's people in the world. It's
like in the question of peace saying it doesn't matter whether we have
these weapons. "We will never use them for war. We just want them to
deter others." That is the liberal position, which doesn't include
those who starve to death with the help of these weapons. The concept
of justice in liberalism, and liberal feminism as well, is more or less
absent. Justice is seen as only a equal chance between men and women,
which is a very important goal for society, but it is not enough. It
leaves out the economic and the political, in a way, and this collective
hope I do share with other people.
Soelle's comments remind me that the individualism of Liberal Feminism not
only makes us unaware of the hurt and oppression of large groups in our
society and world but also it leaves us bereft of the hope which comes from
experiencing oneself as part of a communal entity. In a community we no
longer have to bring about change by ourselves. As Heyward said in my
interview with her, "One of the most radical things I have discovered in
recent years is that I am not alone."
Feminist Liberation affirms this declaration that Heyward has made, for
the social web of relationships is central to the Feminist Liberation
worldview. When we dare to embrace Feminist Liberation, we discover that we
are not — nor can we be — isolated beings who go about our living with no
awareness of or involvement in relationships with others. Certainly the
competitiveness and autonomy emphasized in our society often disabuse us of
the reality of the communality of our living. We see the effects of this
extreme individualism in much of the personal, interpersonal, and societal
illness found in our communities, if they can be called such. But Feminist
Liberation calls us to a new experience of life — to a web of life-sustaining
relationships. Heyward speaks of these relationships poignantly when she
describes how her recovery process from alcoholism has led her to see how she
is connected even to those with whom she would have thought she had little in
There is something very "leveling" about coming to terms with an
addiction and realizing that, among the things that most of us have in
common, is a capacity to be vulnerable to addiction. I can better
understand how Black and Hispanic kids in East Harlem die in the street
of drugs, even though I don't have the same immediate, daily kinds of
pain that most kids of color in this culture have. There are still
those pains that get to all of us, and pain is pain at a certain level.
I can see why people shoot up and die. That realization has been both
humbling and empowering — it helps me to understand another deeper
dimension of the struggle we all share. (2)
Such a sense of connectedness pushes us not only to identify with the pain and
oppression of others but also propels us to do something together to change
our communal situation.
What we cannot understand or do alone, we can sometimes accomplish with
others when we have a sense of solidarity and community with them. It is to
our community that we remain accountable. It is also our community which acts
as a corrective to our values, priorities and strategies, for without a
community our individual truth or wisdom is more apt to become absolutized.
Sometimes we are fortunate to have large numbers with whom to move toward
justice, such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Peace Movement of the
1960s, but other times it is a very small group which calls upon the rest of
us to embody the communal nature of our lives. Russell points to how four
women and their children in Bolivia came together to make a powerful witness
...The day after Christmas, 1977, they took their fourteen children to
the archbishop's headquarters and began a hunger strike. They were
demanding the return and reinstatement of their husbands, who had been
fired from the mines and deported, leaving their families destitute.
They were also supporting the demand of the churches and other groups
for general amnesty for twenty thousand Bolivian political exiles.
Although all strikes were against the law, the women decided to
underline the Christmas message of justice and peace on earth with their
own prophetic sign. Other Christians offered to substitute for the
children so they would not die o-f hunger. The mothers allowed the
children to be fed, although they kept them with them and pointed out
that the children would soon die in the mines in any case.
The government finally arrested the women and those who had joined
the hunger strike in other cities around the country. But an
international ecumenical commission had arrived to investigate human
rights violations and the archbishop of LaPaz also took action. He
declared that all the churches in the city would be closed in protest.
After twenty-one days of hunger strike the negotiations led to the
proclamation of general amnesty and to the return of the exiles. (3)
Indeed, a small group of women came together as community in order to call
others to their communal responsibility and hope. It is in acts of
transforming our community that we also move toward wholeness in our
individual lives; it becomes an experience of coming home.
Another reason why we «ust work together in a communal manner is because
of the very interconnected nature of the institutional structures and
oppressions which we encounter. Until we see the ways in which those
oppressions are linked with and compounded by one another, we will not know
how to counteract there effectively. Many of our relationships are based on
the domination of one group/class/race/gender over another, and these power
relationships are not just registered in our personal interaction but in the
very structures of our society. When one experiences being on the underside
of more than one of the power relationships, the impact is greater than simply
a doubling or tripling effect; it has an exponential impact. Rosemary Ruether
calls this "multilayered oppression. " (4) Racism, sexism, heterosexism,
classism, etc., are intertwined with one another so it is impossible to debate
which is greater or first; all are oppressive and all Bust be addressed if
oppression is to be ended. There is no hierarchy of oppression. Heyward
describes this reality well when she writes:
No structure of alienation in our life together can be uprooted
unless we dig into the foundations of the separatism in which all our
lives are fastened. Some people will insist that racism is, in fact,
the foundation of our alienation; others will contend that sexism or
capitalism is basic to everything else. I am persuaded that the problem
is the dynamic interaction among the various structures, each of which
can only be trivialized when studied as an autonomous phenomenon apart
from the others.
To dig into the foundations of why we live in such fear and
antipathy, scorn and apathy, in relation to most members of our global
family is to make the connections among our diverse experiences of
injustice and our various movements for justice. ... (5)
Such a statement leads us to ask how we are to address such a tangle of pain
Because no one of us alone has the insight into the nature of oppression
due to its entangled, «essy nature, Feminist Liberation pushes us once «ore to
seek a communal response. We who experience oppression «ust be in
communication with each other because we roust work together in eliminating
oppression in all its subtle and blatant manifestations. However, we soon
discover that the very nature of oppression makes our coalitions and alliances
across various political barriers difficult. For example, white women who
wish to bring all women together to address sexism often ignore the particular
experiences of women of color and poor women. Most especially, we tend to
disregard the role we play in benefiting from and propagating the racism and
classism that hurt the very women with whom we would claim solidarity. This
complex reality is seen in the efforts which the seven women, including .
Heyward, of the Mudflower Collective made to overcome those barriers.
As a broken body of women, we confess the pathos of our very concrete
historical limits. Like all people, we continue to be shaped by
sociopolitical factors and dynamics. . .there is (also) much sadness and
much evil into which we have come, and to which we live despite our good
will. White supremacy, male gender superiority, economic exploitations,
homophobia, anti-Semitism — these forces constitute the destruction of
human well-t)eing. These are evil forces which mar our common life and
our possibilities of community. We are persuaded that dialogue — a
sharing of our lives that seeks justice-based relation — is the only
means we have to transform, even in the smallest ways, the history that
renders us separate and unequal. (6)
Even in its members" pain of separation and alienation, The Mud-flower
Collective senses how important coalitions are across these lines. We see
this hope for communality reflected in Russell's dream of partnership, which
gives us some new perspective on coalition building, as well as interpersonal
Taking into consideration that different qualities are «ore
important than others at different times and in different types of
partnerships, we can still identify the basic qualities considered
important for partnerships by «eans of continued reflection and
discussions of our own experiences and expectations. They would seem to
include at least: (1) commitment that involves responsibility,
vulnerability, equality, and trust among persons or groups who share a
variety of gifts or resources; (2) common struggle and work involving
risk, continuing growth, and hopefulness in aoving toward a goal or
purpose transcending the group itself; (3) contextuality in interacting
within a wider community o-f persons, social structures, values and
belie-fs that may provide support, correctives or negative -feedback.
There is never complete equality in a dynamic relationship, but a
pattern of equal regard and mutual acceptance among partners is
essential.... Partnership may be described as a new focus of
relationship in which there is continuing commitment and common struggle
in interacting within a wider community context . (7) (All italics are
Again, it is clear that Feminist Liberation theologians have a strong sense of
the communal, rather than individualism, as central to living passionately.
Indeed, we are not alone! We dare not stand alone!
Revolutionary Change : Use a hermeneutic
of suspicion, especially in relation to
the system. Are aware of institutional
oppression and use a power analysis as
the base point for liberating strategies.
Aim toward ending the sexist, racist,
classist, and heterosexist domination
present in the existing system. Believe
that the oppressed are liberated by
struggling with those in power. A process
filled with risk-taking and death-defy-
ing leaps which moves beyond gradualism
An assumption of this thesis is that most white, middle-strata liberal
Presbyterian clergywomen lack a hermeneutic of suspicion (8) of the prevailing
social/ecclesial system. Russell, Soelle and Heyward share a clear
hermeneutic of suspicion, which helps them move away -from reformist tendencies
and toward a commitment to revolutionary change. (9) Soelle shows her
suspicion when she considers the governmental powers of the United States and
Western Europe, especially those of her own country, West Germany, and their
decisions around nuclear war. Her poem, "To Crucify," is one of her «ost
profound statements of suspicion as she questions the real meaning of the
language used by so many governments and their representatives around the
to execute — to dispose of — to get out of the way —
to put in solitary — to leave an electric light on day
and night —
to sentence -for li-fe--to order special treatment
to do away with — to destroy — to liquidate —
to wipe out — to purge — to expel —
to straighten out — to stream line — to urban renew — to
to threaten eviction — to do someone in
to provide no place to live — to keep from learning a
to put in an institution — to kick out of a resort —
to be offended in our aesthetic sensibilities —
to be unable to bear the sight of —
to not want our neighborhood ruined — to gas
to send to a state welfare home — to turn into a
to encourage dependency — to addict —
to foster neurosis — to intimidate —
to stupefy — to pull the rug from undei
to cow — to brutalize
to forget — to conceal — to not want to make a fuss
to repress — to not have known about it —
to consider it an isolated case —
to call it inevitable — to let it happen
to bump off — to silence for good —
to bind and gag —
to deprive of language —
to make deaf and dumb — to plug the ears —
to put off with false hopes — to blindfold — to gouge out
to turn into consumers —
to blind — to stifle
to prepare the final solution —
to make conform to the values of society —
to adjust — to execute — (10)
She fools us, for we initially believe that we are suspicious of "them",
but then we becoee aware that "we" are to be suspected as well, individually
and corporately. It shows how insidious is the spiral of institutional
violence that operates in our society and invades our lives.
We must be suspicious of the institutional systems and their violence,
which are all around us, and we roust also realize that we have internalized
much o-f what most feminists abhor in those oppressive structures. We are both
hurt by those structures, and we hurt others through our participation in the
very same structures. For example, we may -find ourselves resisting the
leadership o-f other women within work structures, we may continue our
individualistic ways which deny the importance o-f communal efforts to
transform our society, or we may actually ignore the ways in which race and
class privilege benefit our lives thereby keeping in place the oppression
which results. Institutional violence is insidious and invades our lives both
in what is done to us and what we do to others. We want to believe that small
changes will bring about the significant transformation we seek, but these
small adjustments usually only lead us back to the status quo. If we relax
our hermeneutic of suspicion, we will be crucified, and we will crucify! The
reality of these oppressive structures must be named and then destroyed.
Sometimes, little children can call us to revolutionary change because often
they "know 1 the evil and obscenity of oppressive relationships. In my
interview with Heyward, she tells of her childhood suspicions and questions
I had good training from »y parents about racism in the South.
They weren't naming it that, but I Mas taught that white people aren't
superior to black people. What was going on between the races was
wrong, was not the will of God. I remember ay parents saying, again and
again, that it ought not be this way. I think where they felt powerless
(and I can understand this) was in knowing what to do about it. They
knew it wasn't the will of God, but I don't think they thought anyone
could change it, least of all themselves. Therefore they didn't teach
me an ethic of activism or of doing something to change the situation.
They just said it was wrong. It shouldn't be this way, but it was. I
didn't accept that.
Before my father died, on the last day of his life, he was
laughing (I had just coie home from Nicaragua) about my always going off
to places like Nicaragua. He always accused me of "identifying with the
underdog." That was his line since my childhood. "If you could be
Black, you'd be Black, if you could be a Nicaraguan, you'd be a
Nicaraguan." He also thought that was why I was a lesbian — identifying
with those "poor homosexuals." But he began to get it, at the end of
his life. He began to understand that there was more than that going
on, that I had been a restless child about racism, for example, because
I didn't like it. I didn't see why if it was wrong and if it wasn't
God's will, we couldn't change it. He said to me on the last day of his
life, "Since you were four years old, you've said, 'Well, we don't have
to accept it.'"
It is this kind of suspicion which we still see so deeply ingrained in
Heyward's life and ministry.
Through such abiding suspicion, one is open to understanding the
dynamics of power that exist in our society and that most frequently are
expressed in the differentials of power based on race, class, gender, sexual
preference, ages etc. When we do not accept the existence of these power
differentials, we believe that oppression is merely an issue of individual
treatment of one person by another. Heyward reflects on this tendency when
she describes how liberals perceive power:
...a liberal is someone who doesn't have any power analysis — they will
say, "Power, Oh we all have power." "Power is a charismatic gift from
God or something like that." "The bishop of the diocese has no more
power than the man on the street, and God loves us all." "Power is what
you make of it." It is the power of positive thinking sort of stuff.
Whereas those who understand the dynamics of liberation know the
problems of living in the world, they know that alienation affects how
we live our lives constantly, 24 hours a day, and that we are constantly
participating in the using and abusing of and being used and abused by
Such suspicion and awareness and the resulting commitments lead Feminist
Liberationists toward a desire for revolutionary change. Institutional
structures will not just voluntarily collapse, although sometimes they do
implode due to their own corruptibility. However, we »ust remember how strong
are the forces that keep these structures in place. Such oppressive
structures usually begin to crumble only when they are challenged -forcefully
by those who do not assume that small adjustments and corrections will bring
about significant systemic change, even over time; and when they do not depend
on those in power to help undermine the structures from which they benefit in
obvious ways. The reality, according to Feminist Liberation, is that we will
find liberation only when the most oppressed (I will say «ore about this on
the section on marginality) identify what is needed for liberation to occur
and then lead the struggle toward that end.
From the Feminist Liberation perspective. La Lucha is ever with us..
This requires that we take risks, whether drastically changing our worldviews,
threatening our economic well-being, and/or risking our lives. In each of the
three theologians'" lives, we see the kinds of risks which they chose to take,
whether it was Soelle's deciding to do Civil Disobedience in the search for
peace even though there was little basis in custom for doing such a thing in
her country, Heyward's coming out as a lesbian priest only a few years after
her struggle for the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church and before
she had tenure at Episcopal Divinity School, or Russell's leaving behind much
of what she took for granted as the norm for her life in order to do ministry
in East Harlem. In Inheriting Our Mothers" Gardens , Russell writes of her
experience of moving from her grandmother's garden, in which her grandfather
was an associate of John D. Rockefeller, to a new garden in East Harlem:
Although not a reality in «y grandmother's life, the tenement with
its occasional scruffy tree became the reality of ey life for the next
seventeen years. The only gardens in East Harlem had to be dug out of
several feet of garbage and debris in a vacant lot as an annual church
project. My community was not some romantic "clan of the cave bear" but
ten thousand Black and Hispanic women, children and men who struggled to
sustain life in a city housing project where «ore than one third of the
population was forced to live on welfare.
I ministered with a group of women and sen who taught me about
their own mothers' gardens and grew to reject «uch of «y own parental
gardens, yet to reclaim the power of God's liberating word -for those who
are struggling to be free. Bible study, preaching, and sacraments came
alive as participation in -freedom schools and civil rights
demonstrations taught me -firsthand what Mary's song about the mighty
being cast down and the lowly being lifted up was all about (Luke 1:52).
If we embrace Feminist Liberation, we find ourselves called upon to take such
risks not just now and then, but as a way of life. We will be aware of ways
in which our lives must change in order for us to collaborate in bringing
about the revolution! This will not occur overnight; therefore we must learn
to keep on keeping on under the most difficult of circumstances.
Embodiment : See the body, mind and
spirit as a gestalt. What persons
believe and think is brought to its
fullness in their bodies, sexuality,
sensuality and erotic nature.
One of the hallmarks of Feminist Liberation is embodiment as opposed to
the heavy emphasis placed on disembodied rationality in all liberalism. The
theological and social devaluing of the body in our society has been profound
and has led to the rejection and renunciation of the sexual, sensual, and
erotic. This is a profound contradiction within Christianity because at its
center is the enfleshment of God in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This
negative thinking about the body has been particularly significant in the
lives of women because, traditionally, women have been associated with their
bodies while men have been identified with their Binds. Such dualistic
thinking has reinforced, and sometimes created, the aisogyny so prevalent in
our society. It has been promulgated that the rational and moral *ale must
control and dominate the embodied and immoral woman for her own good and the
good of society. Heyward shows to what extremes this dualistic thinking can
take us in our advanced capitalist society:
In this realm of greed and violence, more and bigger is best. We
have it or we don't. It's natural to want it — tor everyone to want
wealth, for small countries to want bombs, and -for women to want
penises. In the moral ethos o-f the dominant social order, it is assumed
that such power as capital, explosives, and rape can be used for either
good or ill, depending upon the purposes and judgment o-f those
In this situation, no action is, in and of itself, evil — except
that which challenges the established order of alienated power
relations: So, for instance, while hunger may be a problem, communism,
which threatens the individual white male's autonomy and his rights to
private ownership, is evil. While wife-battering may be too bad, gay
sex, which threatens the established order of male control of female
sexuality, is evil. While incest may be a shame, lesbian mothers embody
the forces of evil which threaten to bring down the entire sacred canopy
of alienated power. (13)
Heyward, in a compelling way, is able to show how our notions of the body,
sexuality, sensuality, and eroticism have a profound impact on how we live our
lives in the world. Distortions in one arena produce perversions in others,
however minute or global.
One of the other results of being focused in the rational is that we
lose the passionate base of our lives. We are truly dead from the neck down,
and for this reason cannot think well or honestly. We experience little or
nothing in the way of feelings. We are like "autonotoms" . Feminist
Liberation challenges us to move beyond our protective and sterile cocoons
into full, vital, joyous and passionate living. Such dynamic energy will
invade all of our lives; Soelle paints a picture of how her passion is
embodied in all that she does:
I am in an erotic position in so far as I am a writer, a teacher, an
educator and struggler, and there are many, many people around me, many
young people to whom I am sometimes a mother, a teacher, an instructor
or someone who leads part of the struggle. All of these relationships
are, as well, filled with tenderness «md vulnerability on both sides,
and I wish to keep open this window of vulnerability, to use this
militaristic expression. The militarists want to close down the window
of vulnerability. When I first heard that expression, I was so shocked
because it was very clear to me that my whole being, my very skin is a
window of vulnerability, and I need touching, and I need air and
moisture, and I need love, love making. And to close down this window
is a terrible image for closing down, closing in life itself and killing
us, killing our countries and our souls. Staying vulnerable means being
able to resist and to keep on with the struggle -for the realm of
Soelle sees passionate living as related to our commitments to liberation and
the doing of justice. We cannot be disembodied and dispassionate justice
doers. "Truly God works in and with the erotic, sensual, and sexual power and
Hakes us experience those powers as God's power, as creation and
liberation. ■ (15) We as clergywomen are called to passionate living. We find
ourselves struggling with how to embody our commitments, how to express the
erotic in our strategies, and how to be joyous persons with our bodies, minds
and spirits all in gear and at their -full potential.
Russell sees a direct relationship between her experience o-f the erotic
and her work. She sees her lite as a gestalt and reflects the passionate
connectedness of her life:
....it has been one of the blessings of my life that many have not had —
that the erotic, the spiritual, the vocational, everything for me has
always been linked. ... Both as a pastor and as a theologian, there hasn't
been any division between my personal and public work. All the things I
have always done in my life have been integrated together, and I think
that is why I have really enjoyed them... When my mother came, we had to
add a room so we added a study. It is clear that I like to study. My
life isn't divided up... it (the study) symbolises the integration of my
work, that is, I work at home, but I also work other places. (16)
She goes further in describing how for her one of the most erotic aspects to
her life is her teaching:
...She (Audre Lorde) talks about it (the erotic) as the way one's life
is when one is really enjoying life, one has a sense of power and well-
being. I certainly think what she describes is exactly so, and I know I
experience that the most when I am teaching. ... I die a thousand deaths every
time I prepare a lecture and give a lecture.... I am always sure that it isn't
going to go right. But never the less, in giving. .. .the lecture, people's
■aha" experience and my "aha" experience in working with people is for me an
erotic experience in the sense of well-being and empowerment. ... (17)
I am profoundly moved by my three sisters as they endeavor to express
and live out a life that is passionately whole and that embodies the power of
God. They call the rest of us to such a commitment, to incarnating the Holy.
Feminist Liberation does not see the issue of embodiment as a side issue to
the development of theology or the doing of justice but as central to those
efforts. Heyward shows how all-encompassing is this issue when she discusses
what it would involve to heal our corporate body, an essential aspect of
moving toward embodiment:
...healing is a radically mutual adventure, not a one-way process.
Our power in mutual relation moves among us, touching us physically.
She also touches us in our souls, in which we know most profoundly our
connectedness with one another and other earth creatures. To touch and
be touched, physically and soulfully, is to participate in healing not
only others but also ourselves....
Healing does not occur in a vacuum. Like all relational acts, it
is political, reflecting our use and abuse of power as a common body and
as individual members of this body. .. healing, to be a genuinely
empowering process, must be sustained by political commitments.
And what might such healing commitments be? What commitments
would contribute to the healing of our common body?
1. A healing commitment to embody respect for all living
creatures — and solidarity with persons of color; lesbians and gay men;
the poor among us; differently abled and elderly people; women and
children and all living creatures who suffer abusive power relations.
2. A healing commitment to celebrate friendship rooted and
nurtured through the power of the erotic, and to rejoice in
relationships of embodied mutual love and pleasure.
3. A healing commitment to fidelity in our friendships and other
4. A healing commitment not to grant coupling or heterosexual
•arriage a privileged social status apart from other forms of relational
5. A healing commitment to affirm safer-sex play among mutually
related persons, an affirmation grounded in respect for bodily integrity
and in our needs and desires to touch and be touched.
6. A healing commitment to treat childbearing and childrearing as
a special covenant, in which children would be wanted and cared for with
tenderness and with respect for their bodily integrity.
7. A healing commitment to nonviolent, nonabusive, noncontrolling
relationships and to holding one another accountable for our violent,
abusive, or controlling behavior.
8. A healing commitment to acknowledge and confess our relational
failures, and to learn from our mistakes, including ways in which we
ourselves participate in abusive power relations.
9. A healing commitment to be a -forgiving and forgiven people.
10. A healing commitment to recognize the plurality o-f human
intimacy needs, to respect differences, and learn with one another a
greater capacity not merely for tolerance, but for celebration of our
11. A healing commitment to grant sex a blessed place among us,
thereby ending our sexually obsessive efforts to control ourselves and
others by rigid rules, "ethics," attitudes, and behavior.
12. A healing commitment to the care and respect of not only human
beings but other earth creatures as well.
13. A healing commitment to help one another keep things in
perspective, which would generate humor among us and enable us to smile
and laugh — not at, but with, one another. In a perceptive and playful,
tender and forgiving spirit, we would learn to smile and lauqh together.
Such a sense of embodiment leads us down a path which most of us have not
known, a path to wholeness and power.
Particularity : Attempt to show how we
are different, to respect the particu-
larity of each person rather than to
ignore and deny such differences, and
to recognize the richness and complexity
which these particularities bring to the
community. The political goal is to
value and use the lived experience of
all persons, especially those on the
margin, to transform the society.
Until recently I had not used the word "particularity". Coming from a
liberal perspective, I had not focused on how I was different but rather on
how I was the same as others, particularly those with whom I wanted to relate.
It has been freeing to be challenged by Feminist Liberation to embrace and
value «y particularities of race, gender, nationality, class, age, vocation,
etc. to take pride in who I am; and to recall who »y people have been in ages
past and who they are now. However important it is to affirm one's
particularities, the process can also be painful, particularly for white,
•iddle-strata women, as we can see in Russell's sharing of her ■experience:
...I would much rather be searching than inheriting . I would
rather be naming and claiming «y own future together with «y sisters.
Instead, I -find myself having to confess that as a white middle-class
North American woman I have inherited benefits that accrue to me
disproportionately because of the social structures of racism, classism,
and imperialism. I also have to confess that a great deal of this
results from my fathers ' gardens and binds me to the patriarchal family
structures out of which they have come.
Perhaps confession is good for more than the soul. It can be the
aeans of remembering our inheritance, or lack thereof, and testing out,
together with others, the ways that our parents' 1 gardens «ay have been
tended by the same hands and feet that trampled the gardens of Third
World sisters and brothers, Bothers and fathers. Such confession is
truly difficult, but the sharing of garden stories say bear fruit for
sharing around the global table where all are welcome. ... (19)
It is only in facing our particularities, both the wonderful and painful
aspects of them, that we recognize that the commonality which we white,
middle-strata clergywomen assume is a figment of our race and class privilege.
The commonality among women that we assume does violence to the particularity
of women of color, lesbian women, old women, women with disabilities, poor
women. Third World women, etc. It also dis-values and violates us; we are
less than authentic. The assumption that our experience is universal is a
white, middle-strata phenomenon. Heyward reflects the experience of coming to
an awareness of this fact:
Since childhood, I have had a dream of a common language. It-
remained in the realm of liberal idealism until I was faced in the last
ten years with the fact that my Black friends were saying, "No,
commonality doesn't include us. It's always on white women's terms" I
said, "What? Explain, please." As I have read andthad it explained to
me, it has become very evident that we don't build commonality simply on
our desires that we all think alike or be alike or dress alike or look
alike. While middle-strata folks tend to assume that everyone wants to
be white, middle class in our values, we need a vision aore deeply
nuanced and textured than that, having to do with taking people's lives
very seriously as they are, and as we are. (20)
Our society tends to be organized in such a way as to undergird, and
therefore perpetuate, privileges associated with race, class, gender, age,
etc. The institutions and structures of our society keep these differentials
of power in place. We benefit from the system in those areas in which our
particularities place us in a dominant group. Even if, as individual members
of the dominant group (e.g. white), we try to do nothing to keep these
oppressive relationships in place in our lives, we still continue to benefit
from unjust power relationships. Those of us who benefit from oppressive
systems by reason of our race, gender, class, sexual orientation or age, need
to recognize that we have done nothing to merit such privilege. It is not a
matter of merit, it is an ontological reality — it comes with being white, with
being male, with being heterosexual, with having an able body, or with being
born comparably affluent. Nelle Morton, a deeply loved educator and
theologian in the Presbyterian Church, once said to me, "Each day when I walk
out of my house, I benefit from privileges which people of color and the poor
do not have. " (21)
It is true that our lives are shaped on the basis of our particular
social locations. These particularities determine wherein we have privilege
or do not. They will determine how we view the world and the people and
creatures therein. We see this vividly in the impact of Soelle's
particularities on her life and work. The fact that she was a German,
Christian teenager during World War II means that she sees World War II in a
different way than, for example, an older Jew from Poland who survived a
concentration camp. She reflects on the impact of her growing up in Germany
during the war:
...I am from German origin and embedded in German history in this
century which made me, first of all, a natural internationalist critical
over against any tradition in ay own country, such as militarism,
expansionism, imperialism, racism and sexism because all of them went
together in Hitler's understanding of the human life and his ideal of
what he called National Socialism. The seeds of liberation were planted
by my parents, specifically by my mother and her critique of the Nazis.
My parents were pretty anti-fascist. They had many, aany Jewish
friends, and knew quite a bit about the persecution of those friends
during the Nazi time, in terms of their being thrown out from their
jobs, -fired, or even mistreated or brought to concentrat ion camps and so
on. But even in those early years when I was a girl of seven or eight,
I knew pretty precisely in the world that I lived in to speak truly my
■ind was dangerous. The seeds planted -from the very beginning were
seeds of freedom in a comprehensive sense o-f the word "freedom" .
...In my later years of my youth, my parents hid a Jewish woman in
our house. She stayed for almost a month in 1943 because there was the
danger that she would be taken to a camp. So she stayed with us, and we
had to keep silent about this fact.... I recall especially the fact that
we went to a shelter during the bombing of Cologne, my home town, and we
couldn't take her with us so she would go to the cellar of our house
which was very weak. It was a lightly built house. I was always afraid
we would come back to find her dead or wounded without being able to
call the doctor. There were many seeds planted in these experiences of
•y childhood and youth. ... (22)
On the one hand, Soelle's particularities meant th&t she experienced the
war firsthand, unlike myself, but she was protected from the concentration
camps because she was not a Jew. She could have lived with the assumption
that Hitler was right or, perhaps, that he was an aberration of history for
whom she and her family bore no responsibility. Instead, Soelle was born into
a particular German, Christian family in which her parents set aside their
privilege as Christians to protect a Jew — they could have all been imprisoned
and treated as if they were Jews as a result. This particularity of her
history contributes greatly to who she is today, a woman deeply committed to
peace, justice and liberation the world over, a Feminist Liberation theologian
living out her worldview passionately.
The result of valuing our particularities is that we are »ore apt to
value the particularities of others. If we are ignorant of the privilege our
own particularities provide us, we tend to assume that everyone's experience
of life is the same. For example, at a conference on racism, a Black woman
asked a white woman whom she saw when she looked at her. The white woman
responded with all kinds of descriptions of the woman without mentioning her
race. When questioned about this, she said, "I don't see you as Black woman,
I see you as a person." This is liberalism taken to the extreme, in which
the significant particularities o-f others are denied because it is thought to
do so indicates broadmindedness and progressiveness. We believe that to
ignore our own particularities and those of others is to move away -from
hurtful stereotypes, while in reality we are violating ourselves and others
most cruelly, denying our own identity and that of the other person.
Feminist Liberation calls us to recognize our differences; to face the
painful reality of how they benefit some of us and harm others; to enjoy the
diversity these differences afford us, to embrace the change our
acknowledgement of these differences brings into our lives, and to know that
they, in the end, will make us stronger, wiser and more nearly just than if we
were all the same.
Global Awareness : Believe that
what happens in this country
impacts persons around the world
and vice versa. There is a special
concern for the impact of the U.S.
imperialism on the lives of persons
worldwide and a profound commitment
Feminist Liberation calls us to be globally aware in the sense that we
recognize the impact of an event or action in one part of the world on the
whole. One is more aware of this connection if one is in a small country that
depends on other countries for its survival. For instance, when I was in Peru
for a year, I became much more mindful of this reality. In Peru, there is an
expression: "If the United States sneezes, we get pneumonia." All three of
the women theologians whom I have interviewed have traveled to countries and
cultures outside the so-called First World. Their travel has made a areat
impact on them and their understanding of politics, theology and life in
general. For example, Heyward's visits to Nicaragua have trans-formed
her understanding of community:
...Here in this war-torn situation, met by the witness of Nicaraguan
campesinas as well as Sandinista leaders, I recognize in these people
what I value in us all. U.S. citizens are wounded by our lack of
solidarity, our failure to realize that we are a common people. It is
not my particular failure, or anyone's, but rather ours together. Those
who come bearing good news that there is a better way, a more caring,
less cluttered way, are always folks who have found this way together,
working for some form of justice to which they are passionately
committed. I delight in the liberation that can come when people act
together, living and working cooperatively rather than as self-
sufficient monads. ... (23)
Nicaragua not only challenged Heyward's thinking and her developing of .
theology and ethics but it also challenged her way of living, her way of
treating herself. In my interview with her, she shared how Nicaragua and its
people were central in facing her addiction to alcohol. In speaking of her
move toward recovery, she said,
...Facing this addiction was a spiritual turning point for me, which I
associate with the Nicaraguan experience. What I experienced about my
faith and commitment in Nicaragua pushed me toward sobriety. The
Nicaraguan trip helped me begin to realize that I had to take stock of
my own life and figure out how I was going to live it in order to be
able to help make right-relation, not just in the world out there, but
also embody it in myself in order to keep going....
Such transformation is not accidental. Traveling to other parts of the
world, especially in the Third World, (24) is apt to jar our understandings of
what is important in life, to the extent that we are Dpen to "paradigm
shifts," as Heyward describes her experience. We can move beyond our
parochial way of perceiving things when we move out beyond the familiar
parameters of our lives. Russell confirms this when she says that travel is
important to basic transformation and essential for a good theological
The other -form of cognitive dissonance (which leads to change) is
new experiences which invalidate your old way of thinking. I think that
is so important that I spend a lot o-f time working with the World
Council, traveling, starting travel seminars, taking my students on
travel seminars. I try to get all o-f my students, if at all possible,
to do internships in Third World counties. I don't think there is any
substitute for working in a so-called Third World part of this country
or abroad to coming to see the world differently. (25)
Travel also can help us face what is happening to the Third World at the
hands of the First World. We can be awakened to the imperialistic attitudes
which many of us hold and the impact of those attitudes in the lives of real
people in other parts of the world. On the one hand, such experiences can
lead to tremendous alienation and guilt; on the other hand, they can enable us
to draw parallels with our own history and move to challenge the way things
are. (26) Soelle's poem, "The lord of history" illustrates the latter option:
And in fifteen hundred and twenty-five
in the peasants" war in germany
a rainbow rose
the earth shall not be cursed
Ana in nineteen eighty
in the war in el Salvador
the guerrillas are celebrating mass
the dead shall not have suffered torture in vain
And in fifteen hundred and twenty-five
the peasants trusted god
who had allied himself with the earth
and they set out with pitchforks
And in nineteen eighty
the campesinos believe in maiden maria
the mighty he will cast from their thrones
they sing the old song
And in fifteen hundred and twenty-five
god betrayed the peasants
and he once again cursed
the earth that knows not «ine and thine
And in nineteen eighty
god made a deal with the rich
you see them grinning humbly on tv
they know they're on the side of the lord of history
to know that
and still re-fuse
to believe in tanks and stocks and bonds
to know that
and not end up deranged
like friedrich h* in his tower on the neckar
to know that
and still pray
in the name of the tortured
♦Friedrich Holderlin (1770-1843), eminent lyric poet, suffered from serious
uental illness for the last forty years of his life and occupied a tower room
overlooking the Neckar River in Tubingen from 1806 until his death. (27)
A profound sense of the global nature of our lives leads us to the issue
of peace. Our affirmation of our membership in the global family contributes
to a rejection of the concept that some human beings are our enemies and
induces us to embrace a commitment to work so that peace may reign in our
world. We must struggle to bring an end to the militarism that permeates our
world and that destroys not only our "enemies," but ourselves. Soelle
projects a vision of what our world might look like if we were to prevail in
our efforts for peace:
Just imagine if peace were to break out. Not an armed, enforced
peace, but the peace free of violence which we have advocated and for
the sake of which we will not use violent means, because the means of
the struggle would cripple the aim of the struggle. We may only use
nonviolent means to prepare the peace we seek.... We want to hold
together the ends and the means of our life.
...We have a totally one-sided viewpoint, one-sided for life and
against death, one-sided against the tools of «ass destruction, which
cannot be called weapons any «ore than the gas in Auschwitz deserved to
be called a "weapon." We are not partly for death and partly for life,
not for death of others and for our own survival: we stand here because
we love life whole, undivided and as vulnerable as it happens to
be.... God created us vulnerable—that means capable of peace. (28)
Our vulnerability Bakes us aware of our interdependence, more aware of
our lives being wrapped up with the lives of everyone else. In order for any
to have peace, all must have peace. In order to live creatively, peace,
justice and liberation aust prevail.
What is probably most important about global awareness and experience
is the hope and vision we discover in our relationsnip with persons in the
Third World. It is as though we cannot see the vision of and the hope for
humankind until we have seen more of the world than our little corner. Our
theology and our political understanding contain gaping holes, like tapestries
with missing strands, until those strands are provided by those with different
life experiences, different particularities, and different priorities. It is
not enough to talk to people from other parts of the world who visit this
country, although that is an important first step. Too often we forget what
we have heard and experienced in our exchange here in the States because it is
drowned out by our own particularities, priorities and ideologies which are
reinforced by this culture in which we live. When we travel, some of the
supporting pins of our worldview are strained to the point that they may bend,
crack or actually break, giving the new a chance to enter into our lives,
allowing ourselves to be converted to new hope and promise. Once again Soelle
captures this reality in a poem:
Girl from chile
Girl from chile
with long smooth hair
over the broad Indian face
I see you put down the receiver
in the phone booth
and cross the street
and I know what you said
and to whom
Girl from chile
yesterday I saw one of your sisters
so weak she was lying on a bed
because she had eaten nothing for two weeks
because of her father
taken away disappeared tortured perhaps aurdered
girl from chile
yesterday I saw your sister
smile your smile
beneath the gentle steady eyes
when she talked about her -father
and about her headache
and about her -father
Girl -from chile
in your country
love and hunger
smiling and strikes
women and strength
girl -from chile
share your smile with us
your hunger -for justice
that brings out beauty (29)
Our global awareness makes us better citizens o-f the world in that our
communication/solidarity with our sisters and brothers helps us to embrace
humanity as a global -family. Such a notion challenges any narrower concept of
family that would shut us off from an awareness of our r elatedness to others
in ever-expanding circles. Seeing ourselves as members of a global family, we
are better informed and better able to act in the ways of justice. But, even
more importantly, we who think we have so much to offer others learn that we
have much more to receive. Our sisters and brothers from all over the earth
bring what is needed for our healing and spirit filling, thus enabling us to
•ake appropriate contributions toward the global aovement toward peace and
Inter dependence : aware that what happens
to one person impacts everyone else, both
positively and negatively. Persons are
very much related and when we work to-
gether in right-relation to one another,
to all earth creatures and to the earth
itself, scarcity and the need for com-
petition are reduced. The sharing of
resources and power are then possible.
At> mentioned in the section on the communal nature of Feminist
Liberation, the individualistic proclivity o-f Liberal Feminism manifests
itself in a perception that persons and groups are clusters of individual
units which often impact each other negatively. Feminist Liberation
challenges this assumption with a strong commitment to interdependence among
persons as well as with all earth creatures and the earth itself. Our
reliance upon each other is imperative for our well being, indeed, for our
survival. Heyward has come to a much stronger sense of her interdependence
with others: ■
At the heart of the whole thing is the tension between active
involvement and knowing our limits; therefore experiencing some
serenity. We can't do more than we can do, and it's really O.K. If not
me, someone else; and if not now, later. On the one hand, the world is
utterly dependent on how I live my life. I have to take that seriously.
I do matter and so does everyone else; therefore my ethics, my values
and my involvements are of consequence. I have to think of what I am
doing and do what I can. On the other hand, I am just one person... We
really are like the locusts crossing the river. We are building our
lives on the bodies of those who went before, and our bodies become the
bridge for those who come after. The human race, as Olive Schriener put
it, will pass upon this bridge and so will other earth creatures.
That's the way history and nature are moving.... I don't have to make it
happen — it's happening already. I can contribute to it, and that's all
I can do. (30)
All three theologians not only see themselves in an interdependent
relationship with other people but also with all of creation. Within Feminist
Liberation there is a growing awareness of the integral dynamic between humans
and other earth creatures as well as other parts of the created order. The
total disregard for this essential relationship has led to the rape of the
earth, the extinction of animal and plant species, and the pollution of air,
water, and soil. Unfortunately, the way we often have learned of our
relationship to all rreation is through destruction, disease, and death. In
response to my question about how she sees herself using her time and energy
in the next twenty years, Soelle stated a strong awareness o-f what we have
done to creation:
The other point is, of course, killing our Mother the Earth and
destroying our natural resources, the unrenewable resources of our
earth, and the whole question of what would happen to us under this
"greenhouse" effect, etc., etc.
The need for the mending of creation is reflected in Russell's awareness of
the interrelationship between us and creation:
In my theology I have tried to image this world beyond oppression
as a mended creation in which human beings, nature, and all creation are
set iree from their groaning and at home with one another....
I first heard this simple expression of eschatological hope from
Krister Stendahl, who said that theology is worrying about what God is
worrying about when God gets up in the morning: the mending of
creation. . . (31)
The vision of interdependence toward which Feminist Liberation pushes
us, brings us to the issue of right relation which Heyward defines as justice.
We are called not only to acknowledge our interdependence, but to be in right-
relation with ourselves, others, God and creation, to be doers of justice. In
speaking of right relation the editors of Revolutionary Forgiveness write that
"a sacred relationship exists between all living things. The world is held
together by the power of positive, mutually-beneficial relationship. Without
it there is no world. "(32) Then they quote Heyward' s journal where she
ponders right-relation as it relates to forgiveness in the context of U.S.-
Right-relation and forgiveness can be cultivated only in those
situations in which we know ourselves to be basically good because we
are essentially social — connected, related to one another: Our
relatedness is holy ground. The power that connects us is love, God;
hence, we are "by nature" bound in love, members of good and holy order-
Far from romantic, this view of human nature and of our power to
forgive our enemies seems to me laden with theological radicalism and
pragmatic social implications. To begin with, this affirmation of human
goodness presupposes ou.' social nature and, hence, our social
responsibility. No one is left out of either the benefits or the
responsibilities of living in a relation of love toward the neighbor.
We share a moral imperative to insure that neither we nor others live
outside or at the margins of a common pool of resources. From a moral
perspective we must socialize our economic gains and losses because,
from a theological perspective, we are a common folk. (33)
Russell's concept of right-relation echoes that of Heyward's:
Putting things right involves seeing things right. It involves
seeing things in an interconnected web of life redeemed and blessed by-
God. It also involves recognizing that the term "Creator" is a personal
term. For the Creator is one who has shown love not only for human
creatures but also for all creatures and for all creation...
The gift of New Creation by a loving Creator should be sufficient
for us to see reality in a new way, so that we see all of creation, not
as a hierarchy, but as an interdependent partnership of life in which we
work to bring to the world signs of wholeness and shalom. (34)
In Isaiah 43, we find Cod saying, "Behold, I am doing a new thing; now
it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" Feminist Liberation invites us to
perceive the New Creation, one in which the created order is seen as
inextricably connected, and to take our rightful places as co-creators of and
co-participants in that New Creation.
Marqinality : See all women as
marginal within society, but the
focus is placed on women with the
least privilege. Have a commit-
ment to pay special attention to
the experience of those most mar-
ginalized when determining strate-
gies and priorities.
Feminist Liberation challenges white, aiddle-strata clergywomen to move
•from the center to the margin. This is a "transvaluation" in that, what has
traditionally been held up as ultimate, has generally been thought of as in
the center while that which is least valued is at the aargin. Thus the word,
"■arginalized", has been used to describe the aisbegotten and rejected of
society. Consistent with this view, Liberal Feminism originates among women
with the most privilege in this society, straight, middle-strata, white women;
while the concerns and issues o-f poor, lesbian, racial ethnic and other
marginalized women have either been ignored or pushed aside for later
consideration. Feminist Liberation summons us to realise that those who are
the most marginalized determine where liberation needs to happen and what
shape that liberation needs to take. Russell challenges us to "listen to the
underside" in order to reformulate our theological perspectives:
...According to Luke 4:18-19, the gospel is good news for the poor and
for those on the underside of society. If we want to understand that
gospel and live it out, our interpretation cannot be based solely on our
own critical analysis, experience, and vision. Our own particular
theological paradigm needs to be stretched and expanded by the stories
and insights both of those who themselves are victims of domination and
of those who stand in solidarity with the victims and share their
She then goes on to quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose writings from prison
reflect the same understanding of where we must place our attention if we are
to understand the realities of this life and change them:
We have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from
below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the
maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled — in short, from
the perspective of those who suffer. (36)
I believe that, for the most part, only those with some significant
experience of marginalization of which they are aware can make their point of
reference that of margin rather than center, bottom rather than top. Without
such consciousness, there are very few who can understand the necessity for
turning their worlds upside down and who are willing to take the risks
involved to do so.
Our priorities will be changed when we follow the lead of the most
marginalized, when they are empowered (37) to find their voices and make their
demands. Our strategies and commitments will be determined largely by those
who are the "least o-f these, our sisters and brothers." Those of us with
privilege in various areas will step back and -follow the lead o-f those without
that privilege. For all o-f us this is difficult, but it is essential if our
lives and the life of our world are to be transformed. Russell told of an
experience of following the lead of the marginalized during a Civil
. . . (W) e were working on issues of the integration in the schools
of New York City and other related issues of integration in the city.
We were asked to sit-in in relation to a demonstration which was
blocking trucks coming into a site in Queens, trying to force people who
had city contracts to hire Blacks in construction. I did it because we
were asked to do it. We were organizing committees, and the basis of
our organization was that we would do, unless our consciences prevented
it, what it was that the Black leadership decided were the best
strategies. They felt that was an important strategy, so I and some of
the other people, namely ministers, went over and formed a human
chain... We all sat down, and they picked us up and hauled us away...
I felt I was obeying the law and that they had violated the law by
not hiring integrated work crews when they were contracting with New
York State.... The most interesting thing about it was after a day in
jail, we got out on bail.... The group, that sponsored this and also
would be getting the lawyers, decided that we should all declare
ourselves guilty. That made me furious, but I did it because they
didn't want to spend the money to defend us.... If you plead guilty, they
gave you a suspended sentence or at least you had the likelihood of
getting a suspended sentence whereas if you declared yourself not
guilty, you had to go to court and provide a lawyer.
...(this experience) helped me to learn how hard it is to do what
it is that someone else wants you to do even if you don ? t approve of it,
what it means for a white liberal to do what a group of Black leaders
decide to do. (38)
When we dare to listen to the Host marginalized and when we dare to
stand with them, our lives are different. We are no longer able to look at
life in the sane way. In such a process of reversal, the marginalized move
from the margin to the center! It is not *s comfortable for us as it was
before, for always before us are the images of how our privileges protect us
from the experiences of the most marginalized. Such an image remains in
Soelle's heart and mind after her travels in Central America:
Saturday be-fore easter ? 81
will the graves -finally be empty
the exhuming of victims unnecessary
the pictures gone
o-f children sprayed with a new poison
that turns the skin black and peeling
and makes the eyes sink into their sockets
will the graves -finally be empty
of mutilated bodies
in el Salvador
When I -first became a christian
I wanted to see christ
striking me down on the road to damascus
I pictured the place something like gottingen
the empty tomb was no more than a -fairy tale
for the unenlightened
Now I've been becoming a christian
for a long time
and I have occasionally seen jesus
the last time as an old woman in nicaragua
who was learning to read she was beaming
not just her eyes but also her hair thinned by age
and her twisted feet
she was beaming all over
But I've also grown poorer
depressed I scurry through the city
I even go to demonstrations
half expecting courage to be passed out there
and I r d give anything to see
the other half of the story
the empty tomb on easter morning
and empty graves in el Salvador (38)
Sometimes when we are called to stand with the most marginalized, we are
treated as they are. We no longer are allowed to use the protection of our
privilege. Usually the "punishment" is shunning, loss of one's good name,
imprisonment, or loss of job. Occasionally, the punishment of death is
exacted. We remember the four church women who died in El Salvador because
they championed the rights of the poor and the young engineer who was killed
in a Contra attack because he was improving the lot o-f poor Nicaraguans. To
stand with those who are the most rejected in society may not be an easy road
to -follow, but it is one of the few which offers life in its fullest. It is
only in standing on the margin that our perspective allows us to see the way
to liberation, peace and justice.
Transformation : The attitude toward
history includes an understanding of
the past as essential for the work
necessary to bring about transforma-
tion in the present/future. An
oppositional worldview provides the
vision and hope for human agency in
the building of a new social order.
Those who embrace Feminist Liberation value the past and those who
inhabited it, for it is in affirming and understanding our past that we can be
about shaping our present and future. Without that sense of the importance cf
our past, we stand naked in history, unprepared to meet the challenges that
face us. As has often been stated, we must learn from the lessons of the
past, especially in order to avoid the same mistakes. I believe we have even
more to gain than that. We can have a sense of "being surrounded by a cloud
of witnesses" who can show us the paths which they have already cut and
traveled. Soelle and Fulbert Steffensky write:
When we are too weak by ourselves to preserve life's grand desires
and dreams, we can look for the dreams which our fellow Christians of
the past have had. Precisely because we recognize that our own lives,
isolated and separated from others, are barren and insufficient, we have
therefore linked ourselves up with the desires, the courage, and the
work of the many. We discover then, that we certainly don't need to be
alone for ourselves only. There were people before us who have engaged
in the struggle. . .
Church means also to have a place where such stories are
remembered and told. We need these risky memories of the many and the
courageous who are around us and have gone before us. We also need to
have confidence in those who will come after us. We hope that when our
own strength diminishes those who come after us will achieve more than
we have achieved. .. (40)
It is exciting to think that we live in a history in which neither moments nor
persons are isolated entities; our present moment is connected to our past, to
our -future, and to those who live in past and future.
As a result, we not only value and learn -from our past but we also have
a vision -for our corporate -future. We cannot simply wait -for the -future to
come; we must be about shaping it. Yet we can only help the -future un-fold
when we have a clear sense of the guide markers -for that journey. For
example, Soelle has said that her present and -future are guided by her
commitments to justice, peace, and the integrity o-f creation. With such' a set
o-f commitments, she can move forward with a sense of vision as to what kind of
future she would like to see us share. Russell's notion of the proleptic
helps me understand how we live into the future toward which we wish to move:
For women in the church, freedom began long ago and it is time to act
now, as if they are free! They are called to live now within the
horizon o-f the New Age. The expression Paul used to introduce this life
of "provisional freedom' 1 is hos roe ("as if not"). They are to live as
if not ; as if the facts of the situation are only provisional because of
the horizon of freedom. The prolepsis or anticipation of the new world
is breaking in and all other aspects of life cannot be taken with utter
seriousness. ... (41)
To live proleptically is to live as though our visions are fulfilled, thereby
bringing them to fulfillment. We are not stuck with what we've got! We need
not wait for the millennium, although it is only ten years off, to live our
visions. Our past helps us to paint our visions, so we go full circle. This
kind of integration of past/present/future is seen in a portion of one of
Soelle ? s poems in which she lifts up the lives of three important women of the
past who lived proleptically so as to point to a new future:
"Flay me a song about rosa, anna, and rosa: n
...Sing about anna walentinowic
crane operator in danzig
sing of the strike and why it broke out
and don't -forget rosa parks
don't ever forget that she stayed seated
•for each one of us no matter how white our skin
stayed seated in the bus in alabsma
where blacks were not supposed to sit
Sing about women
just looking at them makes me stronger
makes me laugh
solidly built like anna the crane operator
who scared them so much they -fired her to avoid trouble
a preventive layoff from her job on the crane
Don't forget our great sister rosa luxemburg either
she came from anna's country
that small country thirsting for freedom
split and gagged occupied and possessed
beaten and raped
but never subdued
sing about rosa
and about the spontaneity of the people
she believed in
like anna the crane operator
Pid you see her picture
sing another song about anna
about the hope of the dock workers
for meat and the right to defend themselves
for bread and for roses
the papers don't carry your story
because people here don't know
what it means to be a woman
a human being
a crane operator
who makes strikes possible
because we're still expected to admire
sweet little bunnies
not a woman with a laugh like anna's
with four children and now and then
a preventive layoff
...play me a song about anna and the two rosas
play about real people
about women strong and vulnerable
caring for others and independent
fighting for you too in the teller's cage at Chase Manhattan Bank
for all our sisters
play about bread and roses
play about the price of «eat and a free labor union
play against steel helmets and what's inside them
play against atomic missiles and what's behind them
you can't arrest the sun
you can't censor the roses
you can't keep women down
Play about rosa luxemburg
play about rosa parks
play about anna walentinowic
play about our sisters
play about us (42)
Feminist Liberation holds up an oppositional worldview/vision which
challenges the reign of domination and provides the vision and hope -for the
building of a new social order in which justice, love and peace will prevail.
Gloria Anzaldua describes such an oppositional vision as El Mundo Zurde (the
Left-handed World) :
The pull between what is and what should be. I believe that by
changing ourselves we change the world, that traveling El Hun do Zurdo
path is the path of a two-way movement — a going deep into the self and
an expanding out into the world, a simultaneous recreation of the self
and a reconstruction of society....
We are the queer groups, the people that don't belong anywhere,
not in the dominant world nor completely within our own respective
cultures. Combined we cover so many oppressions. But the overwhelming
oppression is the collective fact that we do not fit , and because we do
not fit we are a threat . Not all of us have the same oppressions, but
we empathize and identify with each other's oppressions. We do not have
the same ideology, nor do we derive similar solutions. ... In El Mundo
Zurdo, I with my own affinities and my people with theirs can live
together and transform the planet. (43)
We see this same kind of vision of a new world in the three theologians
whom I have chosen to reflect Feminist Liberation. It is clear that they,
too, have an oppositional worldview which leads to the transformation of
individuals and society and the church as well. God is, indeed, doing a new
thing in our midst! One of the most powerful statements of this new world-
view/vision is found in Heyward's reflection on women's ministries in the
The intensity o-f this vision of God's realm may blind us with its
brilliance, yet we see. Our participation in the common-wealth o-f joy
and pride in all that is good will cost us, yet we celebrate. The
sacred space in which courage and compassion are one may con-found us,
yet we know. We know that our vision o-f what the church must be if it
is to be worth a moment o-f either human or divine time calls us to be
both its bearers and its -fulfillment; both theotokos , the bearer, and
corpus christa , the born. We know that together, in solidarity, we are
she: women and men, older and younger, people of different races and
cultures and religions, we are she. Lesbians and gay men, heterosexual
■en and women, married and single, with our diverse gifts and our
divergent interests, in our shared commitment to human well-being, we
are she. In our own Christian faith we know that in our shared
commitment to human well-being, we are she: bearer and born, mother and
child. We are the Christa (the name of Edwina Sandys' sculpture of a
female Christ). (44)
Reflecting on this new vision, I am often overwhelmed by the scope of
the task facing those of us who embrace Feminist Liberation. I think I am not
up to the job o-f transforming my own life, much less the whole world or
cosmos. I am tempted to stop before I have started, but then I remember
Soelle's words in her meditation on responding to the continuing reality of
Auschwitz in our day. She gives a traditional answer of prayer, which I might
easily dismiss if it did not come from her lips:
To pray means not to despair. We must understand that we are in
the midst of the despairing who have already given their consent to
death. To pray is to speak out against death.
To pray means to collect ourselves, to reflect, to gain clarity
about our direction in life, about our goals for living. It means to
remember and in that to achieve a likeness with God, to envision what we
seek for ourselves and for our children, to give voice to that vision
loudly and softly, together and alone, and thus to become more and more
the people we were intended to be. (45)
On what better note could me end our discussion of the elements of Feminist
Liberation and its call to a transformative vision!
The Process of Beginning, the Journey Toward Feminist Liberation : I
think that it is clear by now that to embrace Feminist Liberation is no simple
shift in one's life; it is a paradigm shift that turns one's life upside down.
How would someone come to the point of risking such a violent overthrow of
what life has been for her? Each of our three theologians gives us a glimpse
of the process of each beginning that journey. Heyward describes her
transformative experience in relation to her recovery process:
By the summer of 1985, I was just exhausted — I had dealt with
experiences of death (her father's), fear (of her own death in relation
to a lump in her breast which was thought to be cancerous) and
Nicaragua, and I didn't know what to do with my teaching or my time
other than more of what I was already doing, and I was too tired to do
that. It happened that I had a Sabbatical coming up, and I took a whole
year.... In October of "85, just a little over a year after Dad had died
and I had returned from Nicaragua and six months after this breast- lump
had been removed, I joined A. A., having been pushed in that direction by
a couple of friends who confronted me with their concern about my
I had no idea wh&t recovery was going to be about. I thought I
was going to stop drinking and feel better. It doesn't work that way.
Stop drinking, then everything falls apart. That's what I discovered.
I stopped drinking. I really did think that within about a week I would
feel energetic and great. Instead I began feeling , feeling pain and
fatigue more than I had ever felt it, feeling confusion more than I had
ever felt it.
The next year was chaotic in terms of extraordinary vocational
confusion but, at least, I wasn't drinking, and I was getting healthier.
It was happening slowly and organically. (46)
Certainly the recovery process from alcoholism was not the only contributing
factor to Heyward' s understanding Feminist Liberation, but it was a powerful
indication of her willingness to challenge her priorities and her assumptions
about life in general and about her life in particular.
For Russell the »ost significant paradigm shift in her life was her
decision to go to East Harlem to minister. This experience was the one which
most clearly jarred her presuppositions about life. She also points to the
importance of her childhood experience of perceiving herself as a misfit as
the basis for her decision to go to East Harlem. She reflects on why she was
willing to be involved in subversive activity that challenged the assumptions
o-f her family:
hy -first clue to such subversive activity comes -from long experience
with being a misfit . I-f you are a tomboy and -five feet eight inches
tall in the seventh grade, you never do -fit -female cultural norms. Most
certainly a white middle-class woman never -fits in a New York ghetto
neighborhood, nor does she fit in a Christian Brothers men's college or
(■for that matter) in the ministry. Sometimes this being on the margin
can give the -freedom to breathe, even the freedom to maintain a self-
critical stance toward the use of your own inheritance, if indeed this
is a place where you find it worthwhile to continue the struggle. (47)
These views are echoed in her response to my interview question about the
seeds of liberation found in her early life:
I think that everything pointed in that direction. I was always a'
person who didn't feel that she fit in and who always had ideas about
what she wanted to do. And they didn't necessarily fit the stereotypes
of what people thought. (I asked her how she survived not feeling as if
she fit in.) I had the support of my family. They said it was O.K. to
be me.... I think my own sense of myself that it was O.K. to be a misfit
was simply that it was O.K. in my family, and I didn't feel insecure
about that . . . .
When I later asked her about embracing Feminist Liberation, she said she
saw it as a natural extension of that earlier paradigm shift when she decided
to go to East Harlem Protestant Parish. In other words, she became a
liber at ion ist first and then a feminist:
I think that the basic shift in my worldview came from going to work in
East Harlem in 1952, and so there haven't been any basic shifts since
then because that was a basic shift from a middle-class point to view to
the point of view of Black and Hispanic poor, urban people. I have
learned a world about my own prejudice and my perspective and my own
privilege in the last 10-15 years, but my basic commitment to work on
issues of race, sex and class aren't much different from 15 years
In a sense because I am a white, middle-class North American, I
will always be a liberal feminist, because liberalism is part of the
bourgeois tradition. It's individualism. It's being rational, open-
minded. I grew up in that culture. I don't think I am ever going to
get beyond that probably, but I came to feminism when I was already an
advocate of liberation. ... I became a feminist liberationist and then
became more and more aware of the way in which my class and my color
still played out.... Like many feminists of my age, I came out of the
Civil Rights Movement and various renewal movements post war, and those
movements were basically concerned about justice issues so feminism was
added to the justice issues....
In some ways Soelle^s experience was similar to Russell's in that she
was committed to other justice and liberation issues before she embraced
-feminism. I have already quoted Soelle's response to my question about the
seeds of liberation, which were planted earlier for her Feminist Liberation
perspective. She points to her early childhood in Nazi Germany and how that
has determined her struggle for peace, justice, and liberation throughout her
adult years. She explains then how she came to feminism:
If you ask me whether my concept of justice has changed over the years,
I think it has become broader. The places where I saw God moving -in
history through the liberation movements of justice have changed. They
are much broader. The first challenge to me was feminism. After a long
time I worked with and for justice in terms of international solidarity
work, in terms of fighting against the Vietnam War and other atrocities
in my lifetime. This has changed because of the clearer picture of the
repression inside the First World and its societies. ... If we understand
injustice as a form of violence against those weaker than others, in
other words, those who are further down on the hierarchical pyramid, I
don't 1 think the old themes of justice which were in my mind have
changed too much. It's like a tree planted by the waters which has
grown over the years: it has more branches now and a little more foliage
now, but it is still the same tree. And in a way my roots in the
tradition have deepened over the years. (48)
As we can see in the lives of Heyward, Russell and Soelle, many factors
might push one in the direction of Feminist Liberation, whether it is a sense
of not fitting, the trauma of war, death of loved ones, serious illness,
recovery process in relation to addiction, or travel in the Third World.
Something causes us to turn around, to be converted to a new way of life
called Feminist Liberation. It is not an easy life, but it is one which
provides us with hope and promise. It makes us vulnerable in new ways, ways
that are essential to passionate living.
Having said that, I »ust restate that the journey to Feminist Liberation
is not automatic or smooth. I became aware of just how difficult the process
of movement toward Feminist Liberation is when I met with a group o-f my
colleagues and peers — other white, middle-strata feminist Presbyterian
clergywomen. Although we have some of the commitments, analysis, and
worldview which I associate with Feminist Liberation, we fail to embody that
worldview consistently in our lives and ministries. I wish to describe the
issues and themes which emerged in our work together so that I might move on
to a new understanding of what needs to happen in order for Presbyterian
clergywomen to better manifest the passionate living made possible in Feminist
1. Carter Heyward. Our Passion -for Justice; Images of Power. Sexuality and
Liberation (New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1984), p. 163.
2. Interview in December, 1988.
3. Letty Russell, Growth in Partnership (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press,
1981), p. 85.
4. Rosemary Ruether, "A Feminist Perspective," in Virginia Fabella and Sergio
Torres, eds.. Doing Theology in a Divided World (rtaryknoll: Orbis Books,
1985), p. 70.
5. Carter Heyward, Our Passion -for Justice , p. xv.
6. The Mudflower Collective, God's Fierce Whimsy: Christian Feminism and
Theological Education (New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1985), pp. 63-4.
7. Letty Russell, The Future of Partnership (Philadelphia: The Westminster
Press, 1979), p. 19.
8. It was at the Theological Opportunities Program at Harvard Divinity School
that I -first heard Katie Cannon describe how her mother instilled in her, at
an early age, a. hermeneutic of suspicion, an awareness that the system was not
made to work for her as a black girl. In hearing her describe this training,
I began to realize that most white women do not have this hermeneutic of
suspicion. As a result, we believe that the system is supposed to work for us
if we just do the right thing. When the system does not work for us, we blame
9. I wish to use Carter's understanding of revolution as reflected in
Revolutionary Forgiveness: Feminist Reflections on Nicaragua :
I should never even have been able to speak the word: revolution.
White southern ladies do not give a damn about revolution. Debutantes
do not speak of revolution unless we are deranged. Randolph-Macon
Women's College girls have seen "revolution" only as a ten-letter word
in textbooks that we hurry on through. Christians don't approve of
revolution unless it refers to the spiritual war in heaven between, in
the racist imagery we know so well, "the children o-f light" and "the
children of darkness." Patriotic 4J.S. citizens do «ot Relieve in the
virtues of any revolution, except «ur own little fracas some two hundred
years ago against England, the bloody battle we've cleaned up in our
historical memory out of respect for those nice white English gentry who
are, after all, our right-cultured ancestors.
I should never have even come upon the word, certainly not to
linger. But I lucked out. fly tenth-grade world history teacher
understood that the history of the world cannot be comprehended apart
from students' willingness to study revolution. Thus, in 1960, at age
fifteen, I became a student of revolution — specifically, of the
turbulence in the Congo, which my teacher, in her wisdom, would not
allow us to dismiss as part of a communist plot.
Since then I have always assumed that behind every revolutionary
lurks a teacher, parent, -friend, someone who knew how to teach people
how to think. Not what to think, but how. Rule number one: You. must
begin with an open mind.
I am clear, as a teacher, that an open Bind is the most precious
gi-ft I can offer, and certainly the most valuable o-ffering I can
receive, in relation to those who go with me into unexplored terrain and
who discover there, with me, something we have not known before — and
something we would not know today had we begun our travel with a closed
set of assumptions.
A revolutionary is a participant in the historical process of
social transformation in which basic institutions — that is, government,
cnurch, family — become something other than what they were. A
revolutionary teacher knows that we are apt to find something new, an
image we have not seen before in quite this way. A revolutionary
teacher knows the revolutionary meaning, hence the social value, of what
she teaches. She knows that knowledge is never neutral and that all we
say, write, or read — and all we do not say, write, or read — does some
service or disservice to the well-being of the creation in which we
Carter Heyward and Anne Gibson, eds., Revolutionary Forgiveness: Feminist
Reflections in Nicaragua (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1987), p. 46.
10. Dorothee Soelle, Of War and Love (haryknoll: Orbis Books, 1981), pp. 45-
il« Interview in December, 1988.
12. Letty Russell, et. al., eds.. Inheriting Our Mothers 7 Gardens: Feminist
Theology in Third World Perspective (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press,
1988), p. 147.
13. Carter Heyward, Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love
of God (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1989), pp. 54-5.
14. Taped interview in August, 1989.
16. Interview in April, 1989.
18. Carter Heyward, Touching Our Strength , pp. 150-2.
19. Letty Russell, et. al. eds., Inheriting Our Hothers' Gardens , pp. 143-4.
20. Interview in December, 1988.
21. Nelle Morton was a good friend of mine, and she said this during one of
our many conversat ions.
22. Taped interview in August, 1989.
23. Carter Heyward and Anne Gibson, Revolutionary Forgiveness , p. 38.
24. I am aware of the class privilege that such travel may reflect, but rather
than say that we should not affirm the crucial impact which Third World travel
aakes on the lives of feminists, I think that it is important for us to find
ways to insure that clergywomen are able to travel regardless of their
financial situations. I believe that a few people can have similar
experiences by totally investing their lives among the poor of this country.
The danger is that the middle class values are so pervasive in our society
that one will succumb to them, leaving behind the new consciousness. I will
write more about this in Chapter 5.
25. Interview in April, 1989.
26. One* 5 consciousness determines how such experiences function in our lives.
For this reason, it is urgent to have programs and other opportunities through
which clergywomen can grow in our awareness and learn to apply those new
worldviews in old and new settings. Chapter 7 will indicate some strategies
to insure the development of our consciousness.
27. Dorothee Soelle, Of War and Love , pp. 150-1.
28. Dorothee Soelle, The Arms Race Kills Even Without War (Philadelphia:
Fortress Press, 1983), pp. 75-6.
29. Ibid., p. 104.
30. Interview in December, 1988.
31. Letty Russell, Household of Freedom: Authority in Feminist Theology
(Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1987), p. 71.
32. Carter Heyward and Anne Gibson, Revolutionary Forgiveness , p. 99.
34. Letty Russell, Growth in Partnership , p. 27.
35. Letty Russell, Household of Freedom , p. 65.
36. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison , enl., ed. by Eberhard
Bethge (Macmillan Publishing Co., 1972), p. 17. as quoted by Letty Russell,
Household of Freedom , p. 66.
37. The notion of eapoweraent is one embraced by feainists, but the following
quote indicates that the issue is complicated.
A good many -feminists have seized upon this concept o-f empowerment
as relevant to their experience and more congenial than the usual
concepts o-f power. To be empowered is to experience the value of
oneself, to take the self seriously in the totality of one's reality-
body, mind, history, vision, and dreams. To be empowered is to feel
oneself expanding, getting in touch with one's own needs and goals,
developing powers of decision, acquiring new skills, becoming able to do
things formerly feared or viewed as impossible.
As valuable as this process of empowerment has been, it has tended
to keep us from coming to terms with the realities of our own power and
powerlessness and our use of power. Many feminists have tried to
distinguish sharply between empowerment as development of one's own
strength and power as "power over" another. Thus women have separated
"personal power" and "social power," approving the former as "control
over my own life" and disowning the latter as "control over others."
But the case is not so simple. Modestly, I may claim only the right to
control my own decisions without wishing to control others, recognizing,
of course, that the other has the same rights as the self. But my needs
conflict with the real needs of others; human beings are interdependent.
If I want wholesome food to eat, clean air to breathe, pure water to
drink, to say nothing of adequate health care, a living wage, an end to
racial discrimination, I need social power; that is, a real voice in the
allocation of resources and services, which in turn involves a measure
of control over others. This returns women to the question of how to
behave when rightful self-affirmation meets resistance.
The Cornwall Collective, Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: Feminist
Alternatives in Theological Education (New York: The Pilgrim Press,
1980), pp. 80-1.
38. Interview in April, 1989.
39. Dorothee Soelle, Of War and Love , p. 101.
40. Dorothee Soelle and Fulbert Steffensky, Not Just Yes & Amen: Christians
with a Cause (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), pp. 62-3.
41. Letty Russell, Human Liberation in a Feminist Perspective: A Theology
(Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1974), p. 45.
42. Dorothee Soelle, Of War and Love , pp. 45-7.
43. Moranga, Cherrie and Anzaldua, Gloria, •ds., This Bridge Called fly Back:
Writings by Radical Women of Color (Watertown: Persephone Press, 1981), pp.
44. Carter Heyward, Speaking of Christ: A Lesbian Feminist Voice (ed. by Ellen
Davis) (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1989), pp. 83-4.
45. Dorothee Soelle, The Arms Race Kills Even Without War , p. 23.
46. Interview in December, 1988.
47. Letty Russell, et. al., eds., In heriting Our Mothers" Gardens , p. 149,
48. Taped interview in August, 1989.
The Lived Experience o-f White, Middle-Strata Feminist Presbyterian Clergywomen
Introduction : As I mentioned in the introduction, I felt that it was
extraordinarily important -for me to write this thesis in a way that reflected
my own experience; however, I also wished to write on behalf of and from the
perspective of other white, middle-strata feminist Presbyterian clergywomen.
These women are "my people" in a very significant way, and it is our
experience that is central to this thesis. I felt very strongly that I .had to
have a group to whom I was accountable in some significant way. In addition,
I was convinced that feminist research and writing could not rightfully be
done in isolation; therefore I wanted to find a way to have my work emerge out
of the corporate group of women in which I am a participant. It was these
women who could provide me with support as well as with information and
correction as I worked on the thesis. As a result of these convictions, I
invited a group of white, middle-strata feminist Presbyterian clergywomen to
meet with me to discuss some of the issues that pertained to my work.
I selected 17 clergywomen, whom I knew and with whom I felt I could
work, from whom I hoped I would get 10 to be in the group. They were all
feminists who had political acumen in the Presbyterian Church and who were
willing and able to give the time and energy necessary to be part of the
group. Any combination of these 17 women would have been pleasing to me and
would have worked. As it turned out, there were nine of us, including me. We
mere quite a varied group even though we shared race, class, gender, political
perspective, denominational identity, and occupation. We ranged in age from
late ? 30s to late '60s. We had had diverse career experiences that included
parish ministry, denominational staff work, church-related organizations.
interim ministry, and campus ministry. We had served in all regions of the
United States over the years of our ministries. We had been ordained as many
as 25 years and as few as three or four years, although the one ordained for
the fewest years had worked for many years on the national staff as a lay
woman. Three of the women identified themselves as lesbians. Two were
officially retired and one was on disability. Six had been married and three
of those were divorced, none having remarried.
Following their acceptance to be members of the group, they received a
packet cf articles by feminist liberationists to provide a common base fpr our
discussions when we gathered together. Also I sent out a series of questions
which I wanted them to think about or even write some notes on before we came
together. They would later respond to those questions in writing following
our retreat. Both these questions and the ones used during the retreat were
posed in order to elicit responses that would reflect the elements of Liberal
Feminism and/or Feminist Liberation as defined in Chapter II. The questions I
sent to them were as follow:
1. Describe yourself right now in terms of where you are personally and
interpersonal ly. What are your priorities? What are your burning
issues 9 Where do you spend your energy 9
2. What are the basic norms of your ethics? Have they changed much over
the years? If so, in what way have they changed?
3. What difference has your particularity (gender, race, class, age,
sexual orientation, etc.) aade in your life and ministry? In what ways
do you remind yourself of your particularity and value it, and in what
ways do you avoid it and deny it? In what ways do you honor the
particularity of others?
4. What is your sense of vocation? How is your sense of vocation
fulfilled in the work you do now (whether paid or not)? When has your
sense of vocation been in conflict with your actual job? How did you
experience this conflict?
5. What were the stated and unstated assumptions about work in your
family? How was worked viewed? Was it ever talked about? What work
did your parents do? Do you know what your parents actually did on
their jobs? If not, why not, and how did that shape your own attitude
6. What are your attitudes about work? If you had an absolute choice,
not related to earning money, what would you most want to do? When you
think of "workers," what is your image? In what ways are ministers
similar to and different from other workers?
7. Have there been significant shifts (shifts in paradigm or worldview)
in your adult life, especially in the last 10-15 years? If so. describe
these shifts and the impact they have had on you.
8. What does the phrase, "Making the Connections," mean to you? How
does it impact your life and ministry?
9. Have you participated in civil disobedience? If so, what were .'the
factors which influences you to do so? How did you understand your
action? What impact did this experience have on your life in general?
If not, what circumstances, if any, would compel you to participate in
10. In what ways in your life has the erotic/sensual/sexual been
experienced as a source of creation/liberation/power? Are there ways in
which the erotic, spiritual, and vocational have been linked in such a
way in your life as to be empowering to you and others? Where have they
been in conflict? Please describe.
11. Where has liberalism been helpful and supportive of your feminism?
Where have you experienced contradictions or conflicts within Liberal
Feminism? Are there ways in which Liberal Feminism has prepared you. to
move on to a. more radical analysis of the political dynamics you meet in
the church or society? What risks might be involved in your embracing a
more radical or a Feminist Liberation analysis?
12- When you envision yourself 20 years from now, who do you see? How
would you have liked to have spent your time and energy? What personal
and societal issues will have received most of your attention?
We finally came together in Louisville, Kentucky, on April 21-23,
1989. (See Appendix J for the design.) We followed this design very closely,
partly because our time together was relatively short. Some of the questions
used for discussion sessions were similar or exactly the same as the ones
included in the series of questions I asked the women to respond to in
writings. The feel of the gathering was one of warmth, trust, cooperation and
high energy. All of the women knew me, and most of the women knew at least
one other woman in the group. The pace was exhausting, but complaints were
few, even though two women were in physical pain. I could not have asked for
or planned for a better group feeling and eager individual participation.
Some talked more and some less, but I detected that that was a function of
personality rather than feeling left out. As a matter of fact, everyone
seemed to encourage everyone to participate. In some sessions, each person
was directly asked to respond to a particular question in the whole group. I
sensed little in the way of competition or serious conflict among us. I felt
that ail the women were glad that they had come and some indicated that the
experience was restorative.
As already mentioned, I participated in the same way as any other member
of the group except that I clarified the questions at the beginning of each
session. I also recruited some of the women to help in taping the sessions,
participating in the rituals, writing questions on newsprint, organizing the
snacks, etc. Even though I had a lot to do, I felt very much supported and as
though the responsibility weight of the retreat was shared. I did have to
keep the overview in mind, but continual willingness to pitch in on the part
of all of the others made the experience a joy.
I had asked, prior to the retreat, that the clergywomen plan to have
their written responses to the set of questions I had sent them earlier to «e
by June 1st, and most responses got to me on time. Hy «ethod of gathering
information from the clergywomen was inductive. I asked them a series of
questions that I hoped would indirectly elicit responses reflecting their
inclinations toward Liberal Feminism and/or Feminist Liberation. This chapter
will reflect both the individual work done in writing and the corporate work
done at the gathering in Louisville. I had hoped that we could do some
further work by computer, but that did not seem to be feasible.
Issues Reflected in the Corporate and Individual Work of the
Clerqywomen ; When I had read over all of the material gathered in writing
from members of the group and had the transcripts of all of the sessions of
the retreat, I wrote up a statement of composite themes that seemed to emerge
from the material as I read it. I also included some of my assumptions from,
questions about, and responses to that work. It is that summary statement
which is the base for this chapter. The categories I have chosen as sub-
topics for this chapter reflect the material as it presented itself to me
rather than the elements of Liberal Feminism and Feminist Liberation discussed
in Chapter II. Still and all, there are interconnections between the sub-
topics and those elements. Under each theme, I will describe the responses of
the clergy-women and then make a brief analytical statement. In some cases I
will pose some questions.
Before I share that work, I wish to make clear two factors which had an
impact on my interpretation of this material. First, I very much identify
with these women. They are "my people" in a special way, and each has had her
important impact on my journey as a white, middle-strata Presbyterian
clergywoman. They are some of my closest colleagues, and my respect for them
is profound. What I reflect in this chapter is built on my respect and
affection for each of them and is not to be interpreted as a negative response
to them as a group or as individuals. The frustration which is sometimes
reflected in my comments is one I have had and continue to have with myself in
my journey toward Feminist Liberation. Second, I have had a difficult time
both keeping my sense of identification with these sisters while still
acknowledging wherein I am in a different place -from the composite described
here. For this reason I have not included myself in the description of the
material unless clearly indicated. There are times I have used "we" in the
analysis and questions when what I have written rings true for me at this
point in time. I am deeply indebted to my colleagues for sharing with me
experiences and stories, precious parts of their lives, which have been
invaluable to me as I have worked on this thesis.
1. Particularity and Privilege
Description ; The acknowledging and affirming of their own
particularities is one important way that these women have become able to
accept, respect and honor the particularities of others. As a matter of fact,
they seem to enjoy the richness and stimulation which such diversity brings.
One woman describes it this way:
1 value my particularity very highly. All I have to contribute to the
world comes from what is unique about me. It is the lens through which
I see the world. I neec to be conscious when I am acting out of that
lens so I can honor the particularity of others and not harm them in the
process. I am very much aware of the particularities of race, sex and
sexual orientation... (Janelle) (1)
This perspective is counter to the way in which many of them were brought up
to value similarities and to attempt to blend into their significant groups.
The result of this kind of upbringing can be seen in the admission of Lark:
Most of my work is "business as usual" in a style that seeks to blend
in. Mostly I do not know well any whose particularity is different from
my own. I can work with a variety of people if the boundaries of work
are already set; I am not able to create these opportunities.
Some of the clergywoiaen have greater difficulty than others in grasping
the concept of privilege, the advantage in power and status assigned to
certain groups because of their racial, gender, age, class, professional,
national identities and particularities. They are more able to understand the
concept of privilege in those areas where they lack privilege than in those
where they have privilege. However, even then it is a concept that some
resist. During our gathering, I spent about half an hour trying to explain to
Deborah why her physical disability was an issue o-f privilege. There seemed
to be no way to explain it to her so that she could understand that those who
were temporarily able-bodied had privilege she did not, for the time, have.
Analysis ; Although these women have learned to embrace variety, -for some
the impact of being "taught" to be like everyone else still lurks. On some
level they have chosen to be different in that they are clergywomen, and they
obviously value their own uniqueness and that of others. On another level,
how to affirm and live with the difference of race, class, or sexual
orientation is still a puzzle for most of them.
I do not believe that the women's inability to grasp the concept of
privilege was so surprising, because we humans do not tend to recognize easily
the privilege we have unless it is pointed out to us by those who do not have
it. It has been said that one reality of those with privilege is that they
can remain ignorant of their privilege. Wherein we have power, status, or
advantage because of our race, class, gender, etc., we tend not to realize it
because it seems all so normal to us. However, I am somewhat surprised that
this particular group of clergywomen is not any more aware of the concept of
privilege than they are.
I believe that this resistance to the concept of privilege among white,
middle-strata clergywomen may very well be due to their race, class, national,
and professional identities; all ones imbued with privilege. Privileges are
the carrots used by society and its institutions to coopt us; to assure our
co-operation with the way things are. If we have many privileges, we have
•uch more to lose, by society's standards, if we challenge the carrot system
by whi:h we have been rewarded. Ironically, it may be because we are
generally so privileged in this society that we do not easily see our own lack
o-f privilege when it exists.
I also believe that many clerqywomen 7 s difficulty in grasping the
reality of privilege comes from a tendency to see privilege only in terms of
personal relationships (where power and status differentials do exist) rather
than also in terms of interqroup dynamics. As a result, there is a tendency
to focus on how they treat individuals who do not have the same race, gender
or class privilege as they have, whether it is in the form of polite social
interaction, tne assuring of job possibilities, or the election of persons of
less privilege to public office. In reality, all of these efforts may make
life a little better for everyone, but they will not make any measurable
difference, for the power dynamics will remain the same. The social,
economic, and political order will remain as it is.
Quest ion : How do the structures of privilege impede our capacities to
feel privileged and to see the power dynamics of our privilege? How can those
structures of privilege be effectively challenged?
2. Civil Disobedience
Description : None of these women has been involved in Civil Disobedience
(CD.), although all have commitments to justice and have taken actions of
various types (marches, demonstrations, speeches, etc.) to express their views
and advocacy. Some were open to doing CD. but felt that they had not been in
the right place at the right time to participate in CD. while others saw it
as a most serious step to be taken only as a last resort. Some feared that
they would automatically go to jail or probably be treated violently if they
did CD. Here are illustrations of the kinds of responses they gave:
I r ve been in marches and demonstrations but not in civil disobedience
per se, nor do I plan to be. I have no desire to go to jail. It is
possible that something could compel me to civil disobedience, but I'm
not sure what that would be. It would have to come as a deep conviction
from within me, and I am not there yet. (River Woman)
...I have marched and demonstrated, but I think I would be stretching
the truth to say that what I have done has been civil disobedience. I
would participate in civil disobedience to witness for women's rights,
gay rights, racial equality, and peace. If I were in a situation where
civil disobedience was being used for purposes in which I believed I
would feel compelled to participate. (Dweller)
I have a hard time with violence of any kind. It would take a lot. for
me to put myself in the situation where I am voluntarily likely to
experience violence. At the same time, I am very much concerned about
the policies and practices which the country is following. I might
engage in civil disobedience if I were convinced that it was part of a
strategy which would bring about change. I feel that some of the civil
disobedience activities can actually strengthen the system which people
feel they are trying to defeat. (Janeile)
...Even when I have felt strongly about an issue, I have not chosen that
path.... I would have to be persuaded of the ultimate value of the
disobedience before I could enter into such an activity. It seems to me
that there are so many ways to make views known that only after all of
tnose had been exhausted would I be able to take that final step. (Red. !
AnalyslE ; I find myself pondering whether these views may reflect a real
hesitancy to break the law unless it is unquestionable that that is what
should be done. It seems that some of the women may have some authority
issues around this subject and that they want to know for sure that they are
doing the right thing and that they will be successful in »aking societal
changes. That seems very much like playing, "Mother, May I." I also find
•yself wondering whether attitudes toward CD. nay be an indication of the
level of radicalization which a person has reached. I say that thinking that
those who seriously do contemplate and do decide to participate in CD. Bust
have had some of their categories jarred because our society is such a "law
and order" environment. To break the law intentionally requires questioning
the authority of the law in our lives and our society. Still and all, I am
aware that everyone is not meant to do CD. no matter how radical they are.
3. S £ x u a 1 / Erotic / Sens u a 1
Description : Most of the women could see the erotic/sensual as creative
and liberating power in their lives and could connect it to their work/
vocation. For example, Virginia indicates that she experiences the power from
her sexual/erotic/sensual self: "My sensual and sexual life is a source of
liberation and creation often. My sense of who I am, as woman, created in
God's image, leads me to being creative with ideas, with education, with
people." A couple of the women felt that one of the most erotic experiences
they had had involved intense and challenging mental engagement. However,
some saw little or no connection between their work and the erotic, sensual
and sexual. Lark makes this clear when she says,
The erotic/sensual/sexual has not been perceived by me to be a source of
creation/liberation/power except during my two pregnancies. I enjoyed
those times. Otherwise, sexual issues have been divisive, distracting
and destructive. The erotic — spiritual — and daily vocational concerns
are disparate boxes without connection: that's how I have kept them out
of conflict. My erotic and spiritual capacities are stronger now since
I attended seminary (where I felt these qualities to be valued), but
they are still underdeveloped, as is my private self in general. I'm
about 12 years old.
Analysis : I sensed in some of these women little comfort in their
bodies. I was profoundly impressed by the reality that none of the
heterosexual women reflected much sense of joy around their sexuality, and
some actually shared that this was a problematic and painful area in their
lives. Daisy, while pondering the question about how the
sexual/erotic/sensual was a source of creation/liberation/power in her life,
said to the rest of us:
...The early part of my life, I was a singer and was very much aware of
the erotic/sensual/sexual as a source of that. It was very much put
together. It was a very -focused kind of experience. I have never found
any experience like it at all. Ever since that time I have searched for
some other way of expression. I never found one. There is nothing else
that focuses everything, physical, emotional, oental and sexual. That
has been a real loss for me. The other thing is that when I got my
first dog, I could hug that dog and he loved it. That was a very-
freeing experience. He was so important in that respect. That was
after all those other losses. That physical expression was terribly
Interestingly enough, the three lesbians in the group seemed to be more
in touch with and joyous about their sexuality and saw it as a source of power
in their lives and ministries. One of these women made this kind of
integration clear when she wrote:
I find that ray sexual orientation has been a real source of power for
me. I feel that I am not so much a captive to the white male system
because of my affiliation and affection for women. I do not have to
compromise my ideas, beliefs or actions in order to be acceptable to
men. I realize that they cannot give me what I need. I am grateful
that women are also developing our own economic systems so we can
further reduce our dependence on men. The church may perceive that
there might be some conflict between my vocation and my erotic/sensual/
sexual life. I do not. I feel that God made me a whole human being and
that I have the responsibility to be a good steward with how I express
It is fascinating and paradoxical that the lesbians should feel so much at
home with their sexuality despite the fact that they are oppressed in church
and society because of their sexual orientation.
Questions ; Could it be that the lesbians have been forced by their
oppression to struggle more profoundly with the issues of their sexuality,
thereby coming to the point of security and contentment in this area of their
lives? In what ways is the experience of the sexual/erotic/sensual different
4. Political Sense and Involvement
Description : These women all have experience working in one of the most
patr larchal institutions in our society, the church, and they nave learned a
lot from that experience. Half of them began their ministries before they
were feminists, in many ways unaware of the political dynamics of the church
and the impact those dynamics would have on them and their ministries. I
think that all of them, with possibly one exception, came to ordained ministry
with liberal commitments, thinking that the system could be changed by
incremental steps if they just knew the right formula. A good illustration of
this effort was Ruby Fruit's description of the work she and others did on
behalf of Church Employed Women:
That reminds me of the time that Church Employed women asked
permission to have input into the EEO/AA Plan of the United Presbyterian
Church so we would be assured that women and racial ethnic persons would
be guaranteed justice as employees in the UPCUSA. And we went and got a
lesson from the guy who was in charge of the EEO/AA in Albany, New York.
Then we flew out to Denver. It was the craziest thing I had ever done.
We (Annette and I were the co-chairs of CEW. ) sat up until 2:30 a.m.,
and had to catch an 8:00 a.m. flight to Denver. When we got out to
Denver, we realized that Leon had gone through and told us of every-
place in the Presbyterian document that had to be changed. We
discovered that the people we were talking to didn't know a damn thing
about EEO/AA. As a result, we (the two of us) wrote the entire
document. It was incredible. That was because we had people behind us,
the small motley crew of Church Employed Women. The EEO/AA Committee
made every single change that we proposed even though the document was
pages long. They didn't know what had hit them because they didn't
understand what they were doing.
So often I think about the importance of being corporately
involved and secondly not assuming that other people -know more than you
do. Annette and I were not trying to trick this committee. We had just
done our homework and knew our stuff.... But it shows what can be
accomplished by just plain grit. Even though it took a hell of a lot of
energy to go and learn all of that and then to go and explain it to
others, that plan, as we wrote it, stood as the EEO/AA Program of the
(JPCUSA for 10 years until the merger.
In other words, the system could be made to work for them! It was only after
a number of years of working in the church that »ost of them began to ask
whether the system, as it was, would ever work for them without radical
change. For example, the above EEO/AA Plan that Ruby Fruit helped to write,
was completely undone with reunion between the UPCUSA and the PCUS. It shows
how ephemeral the hard -fought -for accomplishments really were. Similar
experiences have occurred in other liberation movements.
Another important -factor missing in the thinking of several of these
women is an adequate power analysis; therefore, they are sometimes forced to
act naively and blindly, which hampers their effectiveness. Daisy gives an
illustration of how the power dynamics of race and gender affected her
deleteriously, some affects of which she still didn't understand:
The congregation (she was the pastor) was unable to vote at a
certain point whether or not to sell the church building. (In the middle
of a large urban area where the property was worth millions) They had a
deadline they had to make. The Strategy Committee of the Presbytery
recommended that we go to the presbytery and ask permission to sell,
pending the vote of the congregation. There was a Korean congregation
meeting within the building. We had talked to the Korean congregation
about building together within the new space which was proposed, but for
the proposed owners, it became awkward and they said positively no
building would be done inside the complex. Therefore, there was no
longer an option to have any space; so the only option was to sell or
not to sell. The Koreans immediately said, "You are the ones who got us
to be Christians in the first place, now you owe us this space." Then
they made us an offer for the building which was less than half of what
it was worth. . . .
When we went to the presbytery meeting, unfortunately, the elder
from our congregation, who was chosen because of his ability to speak
and reason, was not prepared and did a lousy job. When the Strategy
Committee made its motion (to allow the congregation to sell the
building on the open market), before the chairman even sat down, the
Stated Clerk called upon the Koreans for their protest. In the
■eantime, the Korean Staff person, who was the staff person for three
presbyteries, got up and engaged "the «oderator in conversation. The
Koreans demonstrated all down the aisle, all dressed up. The emotional
people were asked to come and speak. Two Black men spoke. They had
been asked to do this. They were the two most vocal. They both put on
this show par excellance. They made several speeches. When I talked to
C.G. later and I said, "What in the 'H' are you doing this for?" He
said, "I don ? t even know what it is about. They just told me to get up
and make a speech against it." The other thing that was very bad was
the fact that they asked our session to come forward, and the only ones
that would come down were the white women. All of the Blacks remained
under the balcony. We had these two Black men, a bunch of Koreans, and
white women, so of course we lost.
They had been trying to resolve it (the issue o-f selling the
building) -for 14 years. The first year 1 came, it was in December, and
in June the building was condemned by the Presbytery. We went to work
and did all the things we could do to rescue the Building until they
made us an example to all the churches that were in the same boat. I
think that is another reason why they shot us down, because we were a
successful congregation by their standards and some of those folks
couldn't stand it. They couldn't stand the success of the congregation.
They couldn't stand the fact that we could have possibly gotten that
much money (from the sale of the building). In our plans to sell the
building, we had said how much we would give to the presbytery.
After I resigned, I went all over the country (looking for a job).
Nobody is going to touch a white woman who is 62 years old. I met,J.F.
(a seminary professor) on the street one day. He said, "How are you
doing?" I said, "Gee, I don't know when I am going to stop eating." He
took out his wallet, handed me a. $20.00 bill and said, "I just want you
to know that a lot of people wish they had the guts you have." Everyone
said, "Don't resign." But it was the only way I had any energy left.
That church was going to die for sure if I had stayed so I had to leave
as soon as possible.
Analysis : Somewhat surprisingly, we clergywomen choose to remain
in the church even though we critique it, but few of us are really doing
anything radical enough to bring about any real change. One factor that
creates this contradiction is that, unlike our racial ethnic sisters, a
hermeneutic of suspicion, complemented by a hermeneutic of hope, was not
instilled in white, middle-strata women at an early age. We never knew deep
within us that the patriarchal system wouldn't really work for us; therefore
we never sought our hope in a new social order. We have been led to believe
that if we are just "nice" and take the advice of those in power, the old
system will finally work for us. Even those of us who know intellectually
that this premise is false have a hard tine leaving that hope behind in order
to take action consistent with our knowledge.
Questions : How can the hermeneutics of suspicion and of hope be
cultivated in white, middle-strata clergywomen before we get disillusioned
and/or destroyed by the system? Why have we been so resistant to a power
analysis of the dynamics we find in the church?
5. Personal and Communal Issues
Description : The clergy-women with whom I met all have some sense of the
importance of community, especially when it comes to counting on other women,
particularly feminists, for support and nurturing. However, what seems to be
•issing for some of them is auch mention of their capacity and/or inclination
to collaborate and strategize with other women when it comes to political
However, most are aware that working with others in a corporate
''conspiracy" would be much more effective politically, and some can point to
experiences which prove that point. Deborah points out how working witn just
one other woman helped as the two of them worked to bring about change in
In 19/0 in our presbytery we were trying to get the issue of women
before the presbytery as a priority. The first task was getting women
on the docket and then keeping them there. It came down to myself and
one other woman sitting on a Long Range Planning Committee. We simply-
refused to go home every time we had a meeting until we were back on the
docket. But, it took at least two of us. If either of us was sick, we
called each other so fast. We had to be there even if we were sick. So
the corporate starts with two. Later we had a great task force because
we had more numbers. But whether it was two or many, it was collective.
I really believe it is very i«portant.
They seem, however, to have very little sense of a community to which they are
accountable, and this say be related to their lacking a sense of who their
people are. They seem to share with aany other white, aiddle-strata women the
assumption that all people are their people, which is a false premise. It
•eans, in effect, that they have no real sense of a particular people.
Many of these women have worked very hard -For justice within the church
and the world, to the point of burnout for some. All indicate a need for
spiritual renewal and for time and energy to work on their own self-esteem and
self-actualization. Still and all, the focus on personal growth does not seem
to mean isolation from others, for their concern for building relationships
with family, friends, colleagues and co-conspirators seems to be of prime
importance to them. They see their own personal growth very much related to
their desire for, commitment to and work on justice. Virginia shows this kind
of integration of the political and personal when she images herself 20 years
I will have continued to be involved in justice issues and have spent
time continuing my own growth, my relationships, and my vocation. I
would probably have lost my mother and so will have spent energy dealing
with her estate and moving on without her. She has been a very-
accepting, supporting parent/friend, and I will miss her. I would hope
the church is more open to those "cast-out" — the poor, disenfranchised,
gay and lesbian, etc.
Analysis ; I am not sure whether the difficulty these women have in
working together politically is due to a sense of competition with other women
or whether it is a reflection of the dislike many women have of other women.
The former tendency is reinforced by the individualism advocated within
liberalism and within the white, middle-class U.S. society. Lark points to
the role of competition in her life:
I grew up with the notion that if I had it, that it wasn't necessarily
true that other people had it also. There wasn't enough to go around.
It wasn't a case of my being able to honor other people's, let's say,
academic ability, if I had academic ability. It was always competition.
I was terribly programmed with a competitive kind of affect. If there
was a shortage of it, we couldn't all be honored. I don't know whether
that fits for anybody else or not. I hear about this collaboration that
we women have always had, but competitiveness was the name of the game
The latter tendency may reflect internalized oppression through which a voice
within us undervalues our sisters and us, as women, making effective
collaboration difficult. E>weller reflects her own early dislike of women,
which she has worked to counter in her adult years:
In seminary, I did not experience sisterhood, but I really experienced
the hope, the description, the body of literature, the poets, the
awareness of a worldwide group of women who know each other. I
graduated from college in 1972. So my adulthood in the '70s was a
success as judged by male models.... By many of those standards, I was
relatively successful. I got all the right recommendations for seminary
and the kind of life experience that got me a good amount of support in
seminary. I didn't like women very much. Partly I didn't like that I
had grown up a female and knew that it was a disadvantage. ... The
seminary experience itself did not do a lot of bridging, but it really
got my expectations up. It got me living with God attitudes and
language attitudes about myself and being a woman, getting some of that
in place in a real life-giving way.
6. Ethical Norms
Description : What really surprised me was that in responding to the
question regarding the bases of their ethical norms, many of the women
reflected that their ethical norms hadn't changed throughout their lives. In
some cases, they feel that the expression of those norms or their
understanding of what those norms require has changed — but not the essence of
We can see this attitude in River Woman's response:
The basic norms of my ethics haven't changed much over the years: treat
others respectfully; share what I have; put my weight on the side of
justice, tty awareness of what all that means specifically has changed
as I have become more aware of what the other person considers
respectful, for example. I'm learning to listen and to question my
assumptions. I also see that respect has to be extended to all of
Daisy echoes this notion:
Norms of my ethics: My parents' example, 10 Commandments, Jesus'
teachings. They haven't changed much.
I have a sense of my ethical norms having changed drastically over the years,
so this phenomenon is puzzling to me. Dweller comes the closest to re-Fleeting
my experience o-f changing norms when she writes:
Yes, my basic ethical norms have changed radically. From "Do unto
others what you want done unto you" to something like this: "Find out
■first what the other persons want; believe it or not, they may not want
what I want! Then consider if I can help them achieve their desires.
And then treat them as they want to be treated.
Analysis : I have struggled with whether this lack of change and/or the
lack o-f the awareness o-f such change mean that these women have not reflected
much on this issue or that they have not been challenged to change or thfat
what I think of as change is not at the base level. To say that my ethical
norms have not changed would be (for me) the same as saying that my faith has
not changed for 50 years. I have often thought such a statement about faith
was a sign of immature faith development. However, knowing these women, I Go
not think of them as immature ethically. Still it would seem that until one
is willing and able intentionally to question one's ethical norms in a
profound way, one is not ready to change one's deepest attitudes and take
radical political risks.
Questions : Could this lack of change have anything to do with their
level of radicality? What enables women to take the risk of making changes in
their ethical norms? Who benefits from the lack of change in ethical norms?
7. Paradigm Shifts
Description : Host of the wo»en are aware of significant shifts in their
lives brought on by traumas in their personal or career lives, recovery
process, living outside the U.S., identifying as feminists and/or lesbians,
etc. Janelle describes how her recovery process in relation to alcoholism was
an experience of paradigm shift for her:
There has been a major worldview shift in the past -five years in uy
lite. The experience centers around my getting sober. I -feel that I am
more open to my own experience and those experiences o-f others.
Previously, I -functioned in the world by using my intellect aione. Now
I am open to my feelings, what they tell me and how to interact more
humanely with others, hy work is more effective now that I am more open
to my feelings. I am certainly having more fun.
Some see the result of such shifts as being cataclysmic in the sense of
turning their worlds upside-down while others see them having a profound, but
more subtle, impact. They have a sense that their openness to such paradigm
shifts and willingness to take the risks involved depend on a number of
factors within and external to themselves.
One factor that has enhanced their chances of experiencing such shifts
is being a part of a community that encourages such openness and risk-taking
and in which radical changes in one's life are not considered unusual or
weird. They also feel that such shifts happen in people's lives when the old
ways have stopped workings so a. susceptibility to new alternatives/options is
created. River Woman shows how she came to a real shift when ner old ways of
looking at an issue became futile:
I have to tell you a. little of the history first. When our
denominations were reuniting, some of us women in the Atlanta Office
would get together and try to figure out where we were in the midst of
all this. What were our dreams and visions for the future of the
denomination. We never really got any clarity about that. Although we
got clear about some of our values, we couldn't ever get clarity about
how those values could be played out in the new structure. One of the
jokes we had going at that time was about the little kid who is
shoveling shit out of a barn and shoveling like his life depended on it.
A passerby said, "What are you doing?" The little kid said, "I know
there is a pony in there somewhere." That is the analogy me had of what
was going on. The pony was not materializing. I did, a long time
later, end up finding the pony. I suddenly got this, probably a simple
insight but for me a world-shifting, insight; that the pony was me and
each of my sisters. The shift that it made in my life is that, that is
what I've been working on ever since. That feels right, it feels on
target. Trying to find a pony out there only leads to frustration.
Once I started realizing the pony was in each one of us, the God
Spirit or whatever you want to call it, and started living with that
reality, my life is different. It is different on & daily basis. In
the things that I think are important. My faith is not in our political
systems or in the structures or the institutions we live with anymore.
I think a lot of my life, it was. But now my faith is in the God Spirit
in each one of us. That means I spend a lot of my time in prayer, in
reflection, in meditation and in journaling. My focus is not on what do
I need to do when something happens, but on what do I need to
understand. What is going on? Not rushing into some activity just to
be busy, or just to have something to do. The difference it has made is
a very personal one that impacts whatever I do.
Another factor that supports such shifts is a strong sense of self-
esteem, because the person feels that she is a person for whom it is worth
taking risks. Also having a grounded sense of what one feels called to do
gives one the kind of confidence, serenity and staying power needed in a time
of such shifts. Facing death-rendering realities, whether physical or
emotional, seems to jar the categories that are central to the very being of a
person. Suddenly what was fear-provoking loses its power, and one's whole
sense of reality changes. The question is what it takes for us to realize
that the potential for death on this side of the chasm is probably worse than
the death that might happen when we take the leap of change.
The women also identified some factors that block them from embracing
opportunities for such paradigm shifts. One is an inordinate need for
acceptance, so some women continue to do things and live their lives as they
think others want them to. They may be discouraged from paradigm shifts by-
current relationships or by tapes resulting from past relationships, which may
have been running for years and which tend to control their behavior. For
example, one woman said that she had to have conversations with the fearful
little child within her who tends to prevent her from taking risks.
They also felt that the social institutions of this society keep things
as they are by controlling any "deviant" behavior, thereby discouraging any
stepping out of line. Being geographically isolated -from other -feminists or
being clobbered in the power struggles among women can both mitigate any
tendency toward risk-taking. Having too sheltered a life can work against the
probability that one will move out away from one's own reality because there
is nothing to motivate taking the risks involved in such change. Virginia
reflects such an experience during her growing up years:
I am pondering on your talking about growing up knowing you couldn't
trust anybody. I grew up trusting everything. My parents were honest.
My Dad in the '50s was walking in marches. That in itself encourages me
to do whatever I want to do. I think that it has also hindered me in
seeing the truth. My Dad died just after I graduated from college. My
involvement in the church and the sins that I saw are not anything I
could ever talk with him about. He also saw those. It wasn't until I
was at Union that I began to say to myself, "I can be responsible for
determining what I see in the world, and I don't have to just take what
I have been told." It was tnen when I first started learning.
Lastly, fear is a block to risk-taking, especially when there are observable
reasons for being fearful, such as threats to one's life and well-being.
Analysis : These clergywomen seem to be able to articulate what creates
the psychic atmosphere in which they are blocked or enhanced in making
paradigm shifts. However, I believe that most of them seem to be blocked from
making what I would call significant shifts. The kinds of shifts mentioned by
some of the group gathered in Louisville were changes that take place as a
normal flow of life rather than worldview shifts, which tend to be experienced
as an overthrow of one's way of looking at and interpreting events in one's
life. For example, Daisy mentions the following as paradigm shifts:
Shifts in the past 10-15 years: Was ordained, left "475" (National
Headquarters of UPCUSA) , and took churches which required more self-
starting and self-governing. In my last congregation there was no
■team" to be part of, and I missed that dreadfully.
Red also reflects this less dramatic understanding of paradigm shift:
Probably the most significant shift in paradigm for roe is my
understanding of alternative. Graduating from college in 1961, I could
picture very clearly the world in which I expected to live and work. My
role and those of my -friends and neighbors could be easily identified,
and we all fit into that picture. Before I completed seminary in 1964
that had begun to shift. Women no longer were preparing to work
"someday". They were now charting their own life course. Gradually
those old role identities have been erased. Now I have few expectations
as I encounter others because each life and lifestyle has to be seen
separately. The effect of this shift has been to become more curious,
more open, »ore able to hear what others are saying.
Others mentioned shifts in their lives that I would associate with significant
worldview changes, such as those brought on by becoming sober, identifying
oneself as feminist and/or lesbian, or going through a transformation of one's
theological perspective. Even with these significant shifts, there seems to
be a block to acting out of that new place in ways that contribute to the
bringing in of a new social order. As a matter of fact, there is little or no
mention of structures when considering paradigm shifts.
Questions ; What are the ways in which the blocks to paradigm shifts or
to the resulting trans-format ion can be reduced in clergywomen' s lives? In
what ways can the risks associated with such change be off-set and superceded
by the risks of staying in the society and church as they are? How can
clergywomen learn to incorporate the structural and systemic into their
understanding of paradigm shifts?
8. Global Sense
Description ; It was striking to »e that any mention by the clergywomen
of the global situation seemed to be tangential to other considerations, with
a couple of clear exceptions. One of those exceptions was Dweller's strong
commitment to doing something about the situation in the Middle East:
...I said that there were two things I was willing to work on in
retirement. One was the Middle East, specifically, Palestinian and
But even Dweller, after this brief aside, goes on to talk about building
r el at ion ship s with her -family and her work on AIDS rather than expand in g on
her work on the Middle East. It seems as if those who do take notice of tne
global scene -find themselves overwhelmed with more immediate concerns in their
own homes and in this nation.
Analysis : This omission of the global nay have been due, in part, to the
type o-f questions I asked, but as I examined the questions, it seemed as i-f
there would have been ample opportunity to re-flect global concerns. It is
interesting that one of my consultants to this thesis said that she felt that
the only way that white, middle-strata clergywomen from the U.S. could be
truly radicalized and moved into a Feminist Liberation commitment and analysis
was by spending time in the "Third World". I resisted that notion, at first,
even though spending a lot of time in Latin America has had that very impact
on me. I think that spending a lot of time with the poor in this country
might have the same impact. However, it would be easier to return to one's
safe, middle-strata zone while still here in tne U.S. It may be that we have
to be out of the radius of the white, middle-strata, U.S. mentality in order
to be free to make the kind of radical shifts needed in our lives so as to
move more completely toward Feminist Liberation. After our gathering. Dweller
went on a trip to the Middle East, and I asked her to reflect on how the trip
had impacted her life and ministry. She responded:
DISTURBED, DEEPENED, ENRICHED, ENERGIZED
In '48, '49 & '50 I could «ake a clear distinction between being
Anti-Zionist and Anti-Semitic. I no longer can. I now must be very-
sensitive to and very supportive of the historically caused fears and
insecurities of my Jewish brothers and sisters both here and in Israel.
AND I must also speak and act to oppose the policies and behaviors of
the State of Israel that not only deny Liberation but also seek to
destroy another people - the Palestinians. And I MUST help U.S.
Christians not to equate the secular political state of Israel with the
fulfillment of Biblical prophecy - even when others do.
For several years now, the voices of Christians in Lebanon, Syria,
and Israel-Palestine have rung in my ears: "Are you with us? You have
•forgotten ue« What are you going to do'?'!- The Great Liberator calls US
to be in solidarity with the "forgotten faithful.™ May bod -forgive us ;
Question : Could it be that we can more clearly see the impact o-f the
dynamics o-f domination in settings that aren't so -familiar to us and in which
we are not so enmeshed?
9. Making the Connections
Description : When I asked the question about making connections, I left
it open-ended so I would get a "word association" response. However, the
phrase did have associations for me related to seeing the connections arrrong
the various oppressions and the need for building coalitions among persons and
groups working on various issues. What is interesting is that two of the
women had no associations with the phrase at all while a couple of others
responded out of a more personalistic place with comments such as, "We connect
ourselves to the Creator God and to one another as sisters and brothers in
faith." (Red) Some combined the personal and the political nature of this
phrase. They were apt to mention making connections between women, seeing
themselves as part of all creation, or seeing connections between what is
happening here in the U.S. and in other parts of the world. Only two women
seemed to see the relationship of the phrase to systemic change. Virginia
responded in this way:
Making the connections means making sure I have women friends who help
•e connect with myself and with them; aeans using whatever systems to
which I have access, Beans making sure I connect with God's people who
are hurting or suffering from injustices.
Analysis : I believe that the reason that "Making the Connections" does
not have a lot of immediate Meaning for «any clergywoaen is because they do
not have a real sense of community from which they move out into society.
They also do not have much of a power analysis; therefore they do not see that
there are connections among the oppressions which they and others experience.
The sources may be the same -for all o-f the oppressive and dominating systems
which they encounter in their lives. Without a sense o-f community and a power
analysis o-f their institutional relationships, a term such as "Making the
Connections" could have only very personal and private meanings.
Questions : Why is it so hard -for white, middle-strata clergywomen to see
the political implications o-f our lives and ministries? Is it because we are
overwhelmed by the responsibility which comes with that level o-f
consciousness? Are we blocked because we think we have to do it all alone
rather than as a part of a community? Why is it so hard for us to make the
connections; cognitive, emotional and political? Why do so many of us have
little or no awareness of the power dynamics that are so key in our lives?
10. Sense of Vocation
Description : Most of the women articulated a sense of vocation, and
several saw it as central to the work they do. Some see work/vocation as an
instrument for personal fulfillment, for making contributions to society and
for doing justice. There were two who understood vocation as not related to
their work, one of whom lost her sense of vocation through the treatment she
received in the church. Daisy recounts her experience in this way; "I have
no sense of vocation. I had a strong one until I was fired from the national
staff in 1973." She regained that sense of vocation in serving two churches,
but then lost it again in the last church she served before retirement.
On the other hand, there was one woman who had no sense of vocation
apart from her job in the church. She goes on to say that "job satisfaction
and vocational commitment have meant the same thing in my adult work life.
Insofar as I am interested, challenged, and growing in the work I do, then I
determine to stay." (Lark) Another mentioned that she -felt that each person
has a vocation which is God given and that she -feels that it is a real shame
that clergy are often perceived to be the only ones having a sense of
vocation. She feels that this is a real perversion of the theology o-f
Some -felt that their sense o-f vocation had never been in conflict with
their jobs while others had had painful conflicts between the two. They were
in work settings in which their vocation could not be expressed. Virginia
wrote about such an experience:
My sense of vocation was in conflict with a position I had in Illinois
where most of my work was not accepted by my colleague. He was very
threatened (by me? by life in general?), and I met many closed doors. I
experienced this conflict with anger, frustration, new learnings about
myself, and clearer expectations of positions for the future.
Some have a real sense of being betrayed by the church, as well as becoming
aware that they have been duped by their own illusions about the church.
Analysis ; What is amazing to me, knowing the painful career experiences
some of these women have had, is why they have a continuing sense of vocation
or call. Several of them mentioned that in the future they might not stay in
church employment or remain ordained. It was unclear to me what would
determine their decisions around this issue. I face the same issue, and I
cannot answer it. We clergyworoen seem to be able to articulate the
possibility of leaving the church, but not process it or act upon it. It may
be that because we often operate from an individualistic place, we can only
see our leaving the church as our own personal failure.
Questions : Why do we remain in the church as ninisters? If we were to
become more radicalized, would we stay? Is this an illustration of an
addiction to an organization? Is it the perversion of commitment? Or is it
appropriate stick-to-it iveness and commitment to the struggle? How does one
evaluate whether one's continuing involvement in the ministry is a sign o-f
health or illness?
11. Liberal Feminism
Description : These women saw the values o-f Liberal Feminism with its
-focus on the individual's value, development and rights had been help-ful in
opening employment doors -for them. They also said that Liberal Feminism had
moved them toward a clearer understanding o-f the political realities they
-faced and toward a commitment to struggle -for women's rights. Some felt that
within Liberal Feminism were found the seeds of Feminist Liberation, but they
tended to resist the radical implications o-f Feminist Liberation. The writing
of Lark illustrate this point of view best:
Liberalism, in so far as it encourages individuals to develop their
potential, has pushed me along on the feminist road. It has taught me
to look for systems and how persons operate in those systems. It has
given me space to move and grow and blessed my private pursuits.
Liberalism only goes so far; it uses up a lot of time and energy. I shy
away from radical analysis; I avoid conflict. I back down if someone
disputes my beliefs.
They also recognized the limitations and contradictions found in Liberal
Feminism, such as a worldview based on the assumption that the experience o-f
some people, namely, those who are white and middle-strata, is normative.
They recognize a general disregard in Liberal Feminism for the experience of
women who are racial ethnic, poor, disabled, etc. Dweller tells how her
liberal views had to be corrected by her racial ethnic sisters:
...my liberalism certainly supported my feminism. However, it took my
Black sisters and my Native American sisters and my Hispanic sisters and
some Asian sisters to teach me my blindness to my own racism, classism,
and even my oppression o-f others. Third World Women also spoke
vigorously about Western Women's failure to hear their/our Third World
sisters and to work for the liberation of ALL women in ways and on terms
that have meaning to and for women of each national group, race, class,
age, sexual orientation, and marital status. ... the greatest risk -for me
now is that I may have to give up some o-f my creature comforts as well
as some of my remaining prejudices.
A couple of women felt that they and others had been hurt and rejected
by Liberal Feminists whose definition of feminist didn't include them. One
woman felt that Liberal Feminists had a tendency to use patriarchal methods in
order to make an impact on the system, and in the process hurt their sisters.
Red expressed these hurts clearly:
Within Liberal Feminism I have experienced some of my deepest hurts. It
was a Presbyterian clergywoman who asked me why didn't I become a '.'real"
minister when I was feeling excitement and satisfaction with my ministry
as a. church educator. (None of the men ever asked me that!) Liberal
Feminists seem to me to have adopted all too often the male system in
order to make a dent. The problem is that much of the valuable feminist
outlook gets lost in the process....
However, another woman stated that it was often the Liberal Feminists who
early on named the oppression of sexism and pointed out the need for advocacy
for women in both church and society. It is a. mixed bag from the standpoint
of these clergy women.
Analysis : It is not clear to me how much these women have moved from
Liberal Feminism (toward Feminist' Liberation) although they can critique it.
It seems as if they can perceive how "those Liberal Feminists" failed in
certain ways, but they do not tend to question where they now stand on the
political spectrum or the impact it has on their lives *nd ministries. They
have moved intellectually, but it hasn't yet seemed to have made much of a
difference in their actions. Janelle reflects the most awareness of moving to
a new place when she writes:
Initially I found my liberalism was supportive of my feminism. I was a
liberal in my political life long before I was a feminist. My liberal
attitudes became a logical extension into my feminism. Now I feel there
is a discontinuity between my liberalism and my more radical political
analysis. I am not sure how I crossed the bridge. I feel that I am in
a new place. Perhaps it happened when I began to see how what this
country did affects other countries and vice versa. I also see how my
individual actions have a collective effect. This new awareness may
have contributed to the change.
12. Feminist Liberation Theology
Description : These ciergywomen were, on the whole, very supportive of
Feminist Liberation Theology and saw it as changing their way of thinking . As
a matter of fact, they affirmed in our gathering most of what they see as
central to Feminist Liberation Theology: moving from incremental change to
revolutionary change, being more aware of particularities and privilege,
seeing things from a global perspective, asking the structural questions';
needing to work within community, raising the issues of power, power lessness
and authority, acknowledging the economic issues and becoming aware of the
poor, making the connections, asking the difficult questions, etc.
Analysis : What is interesting, however, is that when these women are
writing their own responses to my questions, they do not mention many of these
themes while describing their ideas, lives and ministries. It is almost as
though they need to be reminded or supported by the presence of the group to
bring these commitments to mind.
Indeed, they are clear about the liberation project, but this theology
does not seem to permeate the essence of their lives and ministries: it is not
compelling them to new action, haybe, as is typical of Presbyterians, they
are able to study and digest the ideas in Liberation Theology, but it doesn't
seem to make ouch difference in their everyday lives. There are a few notable
exceptions, some of which I alluded to earlier. It is almost as if they have
been inoculated to resist the radical implications of Feminist Liberation
Theology in their lives.
Questions : Does their liberal upbringing have anything to do with that
resistance? Do their places of privilege keep them in line even though they
are drawn to Feminist Liberation? In what way might they be encouraged to
choose to be infected with the lively virus of Feminist Liberation so that it
would become a significant motivator to radical action in their lives and
13. Envisioning the Future
Description : I asked this question (#12) in order to gain some sense of
the hopes and dreams o-f these women unencumbered by the limitations o-f the
present. Some of them lifted up the financial and physical limitations which
they would face as they got older, but always there was the determination to
be as active as possible in their living. They exhibited the desire to grow
personally while still remaining committed to building and nurturing
significant relationships and to doing justice in a variety of endeavors, such
as women, economic justice, AIDS, Middle East, health care and ecology.
Dweller's statement during our gathering indicates the intermingling of the
variety of aspirations revealed in the group:
...In 20 years from now I will not be the 91 year old, but I will be
less than 1 1/2 years from being 90. I do not plan to be in a
wheelchair. I plan to be more active, «ore physically able than I am
now, with more energy. In preparation for retirement, I said that there
were two things that I was willing to work on in retirement. One was
the Middle East, specifically, Palestinian and Israeli resolution and
the other one was AIDS. People keep asking me to work on woaen's
issues. I say I have been there.... I really am not going to get pulled
off in that direction, but I couldn't stay away from the March on
My vision of 20 years from now, really keys into and supports some
of the things that I am hearing and reading about a more holistic
future, rather than the doomsday sayers. , I really want to go with that.
I want to energize that in «y own personal life and in the society and
in political dimensions. I have been working on reconnecting, and I am
planning to continue the reconnecting with persons. Family is where I
started first. I just had been working so hard and investing myself in
other ways. Reconnecting is an important concept for »e. Reconnecting
is not only external, but it is also internal.
So much o-f the time there is this internal conflict and this
internal split between what might be called, in some words, the
esoteric, in other words out of the spiritual, internal, meditation, all
of these kinds of things. Then there is this more political activist
side of me. ... Instead of being holistic and integrating, I continue to
find them in opposite directions.
I don ? t know in 20 years whether I will be in the church. I guess
20 years from now I am not sure whether the church will be. I really
have a holistic vision.... I will continue to work on the societal
problems that I see. AIDS is certainly one of the aost painful.
Somehow I see, in 20 years from now, some of that. I see mclusiveness
in the Church, I see healing, I see inclusiveness in society....
I dorrt know where I'll be in personal relationships. Freedom is
very important for me. Whether Rob and I are together, that is
something I will continue to work on and have worked on repeatedly..
There is no virtue in staying married 50 years. Twenty years from now
our older birth grandson will, by then, either have restored his life in
some way or he will be a lifer, incarcerated, and too personally
I see a better world 20 years from now, and I am going to do
whatever I can to help make it. At times I think, "My God, I have been
here before. Is it worth the effort?" Being here this weekend, I'll
give it another try.
Analysis ; On the whole, these women see the next 20 years as ones with
the potential ior self-awareness and spiritual growth, increased energy,
freedom frorri some of the present restrictions of employment and family
responsibilities, and a world which is more peaceful and liberative. A time
to do wild and crazy things: The question is whether these women will become
more radicalized within the next 20 years; if so, they could be real leaders
in bringing about significant and radical change in both the church and
Questions : How will Feminist Liberation Theology get acted out in their
lives?" What kinds of notivation and support will they need?
Conclusion : As I aentioned in the introduction, I had drawn this group
together thinking that they certainly would deaonstrate the journey from
Liberal Feminism to Feminist Liberation, however tentative. Well, it is even
more tentative than I thought it would be. I believe that this group of
clergywomen was decidedly made up of Liberal Feminists, most of whom are not
intentionally moving toward Feminist Liberation. When consulting with Ann
DuBois, whose job (on the national staff) it is to work with women employed by
the Presbyterian Church, I asked her i-f she could think o-f another
constellation of white, middle-strata feminist Presbyterian clergywomen that
would have been more geared to Feminist Liberation. She indicated that she
did not believe such a constellation existed. In other words, this group was
representative as a "progressive group of feminists." Certainly there are
glimpses of Feminist Liberation in the inclinations of these women, but they
are few and far between. It is because of these conclusions that I have
decided to use this material to reflect the Liberal Feminist experience that
clergywomen, including myself, have had since the early "70s. It will be the
task of this thesis to see how to move all of us more intentionally toward
1. Assumed names have been taken by the women to protect their identities. I
have also sightly modified material, at points, so as to make it less obvious
who is speaking. However, I have been faithful to the original meaning of the
written or spoken statements.
Resistances to Feminist Liberation
Feminist Liberation is sc attractive to me that I often wonder why we
white, middle-strata F'resbyter ian clergywomen resist it or have trouble
embracing it. (1) It has been a real puzzle to me, as I have reflected back on
■y life and career, why it has taken me so long to incorporate Feminist
Liberation into my being and doing. In this chapter I want to reflect on my
own experience of struggling to move toward Feminist Liberation, on the
insights offered by my clergysisters, both white women and women of color, by
lay national staff women, and on the writings of other feminist authors.
These resources may help us to understand how we get tangled up in our
attraction-avoidance relationship with Feminist Liberation. I will also
suggest ways in which we can respond creatively to those resistances to
1. Fear : One of the greatest blocks to Feminist Liberation is fear.
Fear can come in many forms, such as 1) withdrawal reaction to rapid change
and/or to tremendous cognitive dissonance; 2) dread of economic loss resulting
from underemployment or unemployment because of being perceived as radical;
3) anxiety that comes from possible rejection by the general public or the
even more painful rejection by persons close to us; 4) the sense that we will
become crazy not only in the minds of those who reject us but also in our own
self-perceptions; and 5) our concern that Feminist Liberation will lead
directly or indirectly to our premature deaths. Heyward spoke to some of
these fears when I asked her, during our interview, what would block her from
moving to embrace Feminist Liberation more completely:
The main thing holding me back has been my own fear... of being
killed. I also fear that when I am myself, doing what I really believe,
I wind up alone; a fear that no one understands, that I am going to be
perceived as crazy. .. .that even my sisters will -finally have had it and
think that I've -flipped out. One o-f my -fears is that there won't be
anyone there in the end. Then there is this terrible -fear that I a_m
crazy, that I have imagined it all.
Fear is a well internalized force.... As long as tear can be
sustained, who needs police, or prisons? Fear comes with our mothers"
milk — -fear o-f going too -far, and o-f being too much, too radical, too
passionate. ... And our -fears aren't paranoid....
How do we begin to address these -fears so that we are able to embrace Feminist
Liberation? Ignoring our fear or denying it is not the answer. Our fear
must be faced. Audre Lorde reflects on how her fear diminished when she was
faced with cancer:
In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of
what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be,
priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light,
and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been
afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or
death. But we ail hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and
pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final
silence. And that might be coming quickly, now, without regard for
whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed
myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited
for someone else's words. And I began to recognize a source of power
within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most
desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into a. perspective gave
me great strength.
I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had
ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence
will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt
I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, 1
had mace contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a
world in which we all believed, bridging our differences. And it was
the concern and caring of all those women which gave me strength and
enabled me to scrutinize the essentials of my life. (2)
Lorde' s words made a great impression on me. They helped me understand that
the possibility of death on this side of the chasm of self-revelation and
political commitment was much greater than the potential death on the other
side. I had to take the leap — in my case to end my silence as a lesbian
clergywoman. What would ay silence aean if I preserved my life while losing
my soul? Our fears need to be faced and named in the presence of others.
We cannot -fly while still incarcerated in the cocoons of -fear manufactured by
the systems o-f this world, including the church, which silence us.
2. Liberal Ideology : Another cause o-f our resistance to Feminist
Liberation is the overwhelming impact o-f the liberal ideology that controls
much of our thinking and living in this country. I have described Liberal
Feminism in Chapter II. I believe that many of the elements of Liberal
Feminism reflect ways in which feminism has absorbed and manifested the
liberal ideology and has been co-opted by this ideology. When I speak of
ideology in this way, I am defining it in basically negative terms, as .■
expressed by William Kennedy:
...Since its introduction into Western discourse in the period of
the French Revolution, "ideology" has been an ambiguous term. It refers
to the process by which every human being internalized a basic
understanding of the world from growing up in a particular
society. ... the process is largely an unconscious one. Persons "breathe
in" the framework by which they interpret their world and their
experience. The symbolic structure of the mind is not freely chosen,
but is inherited and appropriated through the institutionalization of
symbols. . . .
Ideology, then is deformation of truth for the sake of social
interest. Baum identifies it with the collective blindness, the
corrupting religious trends that emerge to protect the community against
hostile forces and in defense of its power elites ( Religion and
Alienation , pp. 75ff). These trends "tend to attach people uncritically
to their tradition, protect them from coming to self-knowledge, defend
the authority of the dominant classes, create a false sense of
superiority over others, and produce dreams of victory over
outsiders 71 (Ibid. ,, p. 75.). (3)
Since I had heard the term "ideology" used in both positive and negative
ways, I was helped by the distinction which Douglas Kellner made between
controlling <or hegemonic) ideology and liberating ideology. (4) This kind of
distinction is also made by Gibson Winter, who writes:
Ideology. . .-faces in two directions. ... Ideology nay be primarily oriented
to preserving and legitimating the established powers in a society. It
may also face primarily toward the future and project a Utopian model
for a more just society. In either case, ideology draws upon the
symbolic powers that generate a people's identity. ... (5)
It is important to understand the dominant liberal ideology in this
society which seems overwhelming hegemonic to me and reflect on how it keeps
us -from moving toward trans-formative change- We must initially acknowledge
that although most of us who are white, middle-strata feminists say we want
significant change and try to bring about some change, we seldom seem to make
more than minor adjustments to the social dynamics surrounding us. Audre
Lorde warns us that such efforts won't work:
For the masters 7 s tools will never dismantle the master's house . They
may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will
neve" enable us to bring about genuine change. (6)
Deep down we know we have problems with too much change in the way things are.
We do not want the power dynamics of the master's house to change too much.
We benefit from them in most respects, even though there may be some ways in
which the established power dynamics hurt us if we happen to be lesbian,
disabled, old, single, etc. Freire points out how threatening it is to the
non-poor for things to change in relation to class:
The freedom of the poor is in their process of liberation. Every
attempt at liberation of the poor appears to the rich as a. threat, and
every attempt at liberation of the poor is seen by the rich as a
restriction of their own freedom= The understanding of this dynamic
relationship throws some light on how the process and the pedagogy of
liberation of the poor differ from the process and pedagogy for the non-
poor or the rich. When somebody asks who educates the rich, I say "the
rich," but the irony is that the rich educate themselves to continue
rich and they educate the poor to continue poor. And the rich educate
the poor to accept their own poverty as a normal and natural thing. (7)
Freire helps us to see how insidious are the forces that would block us from
bringing about a new social order. We not only hold onto what we wrongly
have, but we teach the poor to see our ownership of disproportionate
quantities of things as "normal and natural." Even if we are among the
remnant who really want to change the power dynamics of our society and world.
"all of us -fear our own liberation because the liberation which results, -from
successfully countering the controlling ideology also brings
accountability. " (8)
Even though it is frightening, how might white, middle-strata
Presbyterian clergywomen move away from the controlling liberal ideology
toward a vision of Feminist Liberation? Robert Evans has helped me think
about what some of the essential elements to such transformation might be, and
they are as follow:
1. Encounter with the Poor
2. Experiential Immersion that Challenges Assumptions
3. Openness to Vulnerability
4. Community of Support and Accountability
5. Vision and Values
6. Cycle of Critical Socioeconomic Analysis — Reflection/
Act ion /Reflection
7. Commitment, Involvement, and Leadership
6. Symbol, Ritual and Liturgy (9)
(See Appendix K for my summary of quoted descriptions of these elements.)
This comprehensive description of the components of transformation
challenges us to be about the task which will bring us to a new day. This
vision might help move us beyond our "stuckness 1 ' in the controlling ideologies
which distort our world as well as our dreams.
However, Susan Griffin proposes that there is a sameness about all
ideology; therefore moving away from a controlling ideology may not Tree us of
our resistance to Feminist Liberation. As a flatter of fact, even what looks
like a liberating ideology is easily transformed into a controlling one:
...This is the way of all ideology. It is Bind over body. Safety
over risk. The predictable over the surprise. Control over emotion.
But the history of ideologies is also a tragedy. For in the beginning a
political theory is born of genuine feeling of a sense of reality.... A
theory of liberation must be created to articulate the feeling of
oppression, to describe this oppression as real, as unjust and, to point
to a cause. In this way the idea is liberating. It restores to the
oppressed a belief in the self and in the authority of the self to
determine what is real.
But when at theory is trans-formed into an ideology, it begins to
destroy the self and self-knowledge. Originally born of feeling, it
pretends to float above and around feeling. Above sens&tion. It
organizes experience according to itself, without touching experience.
By virtue of being itself, it is supposed to know. To invoke the narrie
of this ideology is to confer truthfulness. No one can tell it anything
new. Experience ceases to surprise it, inform it, transform it. It is
annoyed by any detail which does not fit into its world view. ... Begun as
a theory of liberation, it is threatened by the new theories of
liberation: slowly, it builds a prison for the mind. (10)
Griffin voices my fear that Feminist Liberation can become an ideology and
lose its capacity to be liberating and transforming. What can be done to move
us away from the dominant ideology des) in this society while not replacing
them with an equally death-rendering one? Griffin proposes that
...we may have to relearn thinking. We have to learn to tolerate
questions. .. .We may even have to learn to cultivate paradox, welcome
contradiction or a troublesome question. We may have to learn to love
knowledge for its own sake, not as means to power. This is not to srgue
that one cannot argue. This is not to argue against thought. But
rather to argue against the old dualities. Against ideology. And for
the intellect. For the cle&r intellect which explores the self ana the
world with a genuine desire to know. (11)
Opening ourselves to this new wa<y of thinking and knowing hopefully will free
us to live out Feminist Liberation in such a way as to m&ke it lioeratmg for
ourselves and others.
3. Sexism : The third source of resistance to Feminist Liberation is
sexism, which in both our lives and society acts to reduce the chances of our
being Feminist Liberationists. Sexism has been defined as "...cultural and
economic structures which create and enforce the elaborate and rigid patterns
of sex-marking and sex-announcing which divide the species, along lines of
sex, into dominators and subordinates. Individual acts and practices are
sexist which reinforce and support those structures, either as culture or as
shapes taken on by the enculturated animals. ... u (12)
In her metaphor of oppression as a bird in the gilded bird cage, Marilyn
Frye has given us a powerful metaphor -for sexism:
Cages, Consider a birdcage. If you. look very closely at just one
wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of
what is before you is determined by this myopic focus, you. could look at
that one wire, up and down the length of it, and be unable to see why a
bird would not just fly around the wire any time it wanted to go
somewhere. Furthermore,, even if, one day at a time, you myopically
inspected each wire, you still could not see why a bird would have
trouble going past the wires to get anywhere. There is no physical
property of any one wire, nothing that the closest scrutiny could
discover, that will reveal how a bird could be inhibited or harmed by it
except in the most accidental way. It is only when you step back, stop
looking at the wires one by one, microscopically, and take a macroscopic
view of the whole cage, that you. can see why the bird does not go
anywhere: and then you will see it in a moment. It will require no
great subtlety of mental powers. It is perfectly obvious that the bird
is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers, no -one o-f
which would be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by their
relations to each other, are as con-fining as the solid walls of a
It is now possible to grasp one of the reasons why oppression can
be hard to see and recognize: one can study the elements o-f an
oppressive structure with great care and some good will without seeing
the structure as a. whole, and hence without seeing or being able to
understand that one is looking at a cage and that there are people there
who are caged, whose motion and mobility are restricted, whose lives are
shaped and reduced. (13)
Most feminist clergywomen would have little trouble identifying with
these notions of sexism. We get caught, however, in internalized sexism. This
''voice", experienced as either faint or loud within us, tells us that our
sexist oppressors are right. The oppressor no longer needs to be present for
oppression to continue. We hold it in place by believing, for example, that
we are weak, stupid, crazy, dumb, evil. (14) We believe, therefore, that we
deserve what we get at the hands of individual men and the sexist institutions
that have been created by them, whether in the form of discrimination on the
job, dismissal of our ideas in academia, non-voluntary committal to a mental
institution or other violence to our bodies, minds, psyches, or spirits.
These tapes are not easy to erase. As a »atter of fact, we do participate in
our own oppression, often never perceiving our part in perpetuating our pain.
This internalized oppression gets played out in our lives not only in
the collusion in our own individual oppression but also in our horizontal
violence against other women, it comes in many forms, such as in lying to
other women, competing with them, and putting other women down in various
ways. It can take the forms o-f accepting sexist stereotypes when applied to
other women and o-f interpreting violence against other women as their own
■fault. Susan Griffin reminds us that we should not be too surprised by our
And in all this, do we forget that we have swallowed the old paradigms,
been raised in the same woman-hating culture? We ourselves have learned
to associate woman with nature, dark skin with dangerous knowledge. In
a part of us, we are afraid of all that masculine society fears. We
tear female power, in ourselves and in others. And we fear separation.
We do not like another woman to think differently than we do. We
confuse ourselves and our own integrity with that of other women, whom
we confuse with our mothers, whom we confuse with nature. That which m
society has created conditions which imprison us also determines the
shape of the dialogue we have between us, the shape of our efforts
toward liberation. Just as society has separated the idea of "women"
from the idea of "knowledge," we cease to be able to accept our own
thoughts, feelings and sensations as a source of authority. (15)
Adrienne Rich's description of women's lying makes this phenomenon even
easier to grasp:
Women have been forced to lie, for survival, to men. How to unlearn
this among other women?
"Women have always lied to each other."
"Women have always whispered the truth to each other."
Both of these axioms are true.
"Women have always been divided against each other."
"Women have always been in secret collusion."
Both of these axioms are true.
In the struggle for survival we tell lies. To bosses, to prison
guards, to police, men who have power over us, who legally own us and
our children, lovers who need us as proof of their manhood.
There is a danger run by all powerless people: that we forget we
are lying, or that lying becomes a weapon we carry over into
relationships with people who do not have power over us. (16)
Rich's question about how women can unlearn lying to one another is profound.
It also helps us realise other ways in which we treat each other violently.
We must work on affirming and valuing ourselves as women, for it is in
validating our own existence and personhood that we are able to embrace other
women as sisters. Put this internal work must be done in the context of a
community from which we receive support anc to which we feel accountable.
Then we can support each other in challenging the structural sexism in our
4. Social Privilege : Another major force I see working against our
becoming Feminist Liberat ionists is that of social privilege. As mentioned
earlier, one of the reasons this obstacle doesn't come readily to mind is that
we who have privilege can choose to ignore or deny its reality. It seems to
our advantage as white, middle-strata clergywomen to leave things as they are,
because we personally benefit from our race and class privilege. However,
Feminist Liberation challenges this privilege so as to make it impossible for
us to continue in our dreaming "innocence" or our ignorance. It is painful to
become aware that the oppression of poor people and people of color is
required to maintain our class and race privilege, fiy first real awareness of
this privilege came in my growing recognition of the connection between my
access to economic survival resources and the poverty of most Latin Americans.
This became clear to me the year I lived in Peru. As »y dollars appreciated,
■y Peruvian friends' soles were devalued. One of the North American
theologians who has helped tie understand my privilege as a U.S. citizen has
been Robert McAfee Brown throuqh his writings about his own struqqle with
It is obvious that to hear something involves a willingness to
listen. It is less obvious, but more important, that we may not like
what we hear; the new song may be such a threat or such a challenge,
that we want to stifle it.
The Lord's song is clearly a threat . It is a threat to our
personhood, suggesting that we are on the wrong side or the oppressor-
oppressed dialectic; it is a threat to our -faith, suggesting that we co-
opt -faith to allow us to side with the privileged rather than the needy;
it is a threat to our nationhood, suggesting that we use our power -for
exploitive rather than creative purposes; and it is a threat to our will
to change, suggesting that the price of change is more than we are
willing to put on the line.
For many, the last point is the heart of the problem. Many of the
structures of society that benefit us are structures that destroy
others. Their backs and lives are broken producing the food we eat and
the gooes we purchase. They will never be able to stand as long as our
feet are on their necks. Their exploitation seems to be necessary for
our comfort. And unless we are callously insensitive, we cannot help
being threatened by that discovery. We would like to change the world
so that such conditions do not continue and we are further threatened
when most of the things we are prepared to "do" are looked upon as cheap
palliatives or trivial evasions of the real problem. Our concepts of
"help," "charity," and "doing good" are interpreted as ways to salve our
consciences without changing our lives. We attack the symptoms rather
than the causes. This makes us feel better but nothing has changed .
One insidious thing about privilege is that we can choose to hear or not
to hear the cry of our brothers and sisters who do not share our privilege and
suffer because of it. As Marilyn Frye contends, this phenomenon occurs even
among feminists who choose to hear:
Nonetheless, many white feminists have to a fair extent responded
to the demand; by which I mean, white feminists have to a fair extent
chosen to hear what it was usually in their power not to hear. The
hearing is, as anyone who has been on the scene knows, sometimes very
defensive, sometimes dulled by fear, sometimes alarmingly partial or
distorted. But it has interested me that I and other white feminists
have heard the objections and demands, for I think it is an aspect of
race privilege to have a choice — a choice between the options of hearing
and not hearing. That is part of what being white gets you. (18)
She reflects further on the difficulty we have in perceiving our options and
prerogatives as white women in relation to women of color or poor women. The
difficulty is rooted in our systemic relationships to those (white) men
through whom we gain our privilege:
...Members of dominant groups are habitually busy with impressing each
other and care more for that than for actually knowing what is going on.
And again, white women can learn from our own experience a propos (most
often, white) men. We do much o-f what we do with a great anxiety for
how we will be received by men — by mentors, friends, husbands, levers,
editors, members of our disciplines, professions or political groups,
tenure-review committees, fathers. With our attention focused on these
men, or our imaginings of them, we cannot pay attention to the matter at
hand and will wind up ignorant of things which were perfectly apparent.
Thus, without any specific effort these men can turn white women to the
work of falsification even as we try to educate ourselves. Since white
women are almost white men, being white, at least, and sometimes more-
or-less honorary men, we can cling to a hope of true membership irr the
dominant and powerful group, and if our focus is thus locked on them by
this futile hope, we can be stuck in our ignorance and theirs all our
lives. (Some men of color fail into the parallel trap of hoping for
membership in the dominant and powerful group, this time because of
their sex. With their attention focused on power and money, they cannot
see women, of their race or any other.) Attention has everything do
with knowledge. (19)
When we choose not to hear our poor or racial ethnic sisters, thereby-
failing to understand the impact of our privilege on their lives, we
perpetuate the oppressive systems in this society and around the world. In an
oppressive system, a few "token" subordinates usually are encouraged to become
honorary members of the dominant group. In her written interview, Margaret (a
racial ethnic lay staff member whom I interviewed) reflects the experience of
being made an honorary white person:
Even I, myself, as half American and half Chinese feel I am "given
privileged" status because I do not look Chinese; this bothers me. I
want to be known as Chinese also, but our privileged status is often
given to us by others who want to have us be like them.
Not only is the honorary member of the dominant group made to seem like a
•ember of the dominant group but she is also expected to be beholden to the
dominant group and to behave appropriately. The honorary "man", "white",
"straight", or "rich" constantly must have her/his attention on the dominant
group to be sure that her/his behavior is acceptable.
In order to be part of the trans-formative -forces that are growing ail
around us, we -feminists must struggle to have attention -focused correctly.
We oust choose on which side we will put our time, energy, reputation, money,
and commitments; on the side o-f those who struggle to do justice or with those
who perpetuate the unjust systems which give privilege to some and none to
others. Any attempt to be neutral rein-forces the status quo that sa-feguards
things as they are. This route guarantees the preservation o-f our privilege
and the non-privilege o-f others. Phyllis (one o-f the racial ethnic
clergy-women I interviewed) indicates her frustration with white Christian
women who ignore their race privilege:
...I am increasingly impatient with white Christian women at whatever
state of consciousness or condition or ordination who fail to see, own
and deal with the real and present danger of their privileged status as
a powerful social construct derived solely from ''ace in North American
To give up one's privilege (20) and its prerogatives is difficult not
only because of the forces in society that deceive us about the way things are
and that attempt to maintain the status quo but also because our attempts will
marginalize us, separating us from those with whom we have been closely
associated. For example, one of the hardest things about writing this thesis
is questioning Liberal Feminism and its failure to challenge our privilege. I
fear it will threaten ay relationships with those who are dearest to me, even
some of my -feminist colleagues. The nature of privilege is such that when we
dare to question it, we are often ridiculed and rejected by others *ho share
our privilege and do not wish to question it. -Already I have experienced
being marginalized because of my feminism, leftist politics, and lesbianism.
This marginalization has been painful. It has been even more difficult for me
to challenge my closest -feminist colleagues about ways in which we fail to
pose the probing questions concerning how we oppress others.
In -fact, in the process of trying to liberate ourselves, we have left
others behind. It is scary for me to speak this truth. In doing so, I do not
claim to have all the answers about how we move away from our privilege; but I
am sure that, unless we find such courage, we will not help to bring about the
transformation we desire.
Angela Davis, in a provocative speech at Simmons College in the fall of
1989, challenged white, middle-class women to face the assumptions that :
reflect our race and class privilege. She also challenged women of color to
become active in a transformed feminist movement. Her words ring in my ears:
...We continue to conceptualize the problem of women'' s equality as
one that requires us to understand the relationship between women or
gender and race and class. When we conceptualize the problem as one of
women and then race and then class, there is a possibility of a
continued and hidden marginalization of women from our (racial ethnic)
communities and of poor women from all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
The formulation itself indicates that there are women, and then there is
race and then there is class. If you can add on race and class, you can
also subtract race and class. Once you subtract race and class, you end
up with something like pure unadulterated womanhood. It usually turns
out to be white. Unfortunately if you look at the world of many white
feminist theorists today, they persist in formulating the issues in such
a. way as to render us invisible. Finally we will hear the voice of
woman, but I don't see me there. I dorrt recognize myself.
Because of the ideological nature of our educational process,
there is a tendency to utilize concepts which are abstract universais
which usually turn out to be concrete particulars because they
camouflage the fact that what is really being talked about is white,
■iddle class or bourgeoisie. When these concepts are used in the
Feminist Movement, they do violence to us who aren't white, who aren't
•iddle class. .. .What I think is so ironic is that some of the same
feminists who so passionately challenged the use of the purportedly
generic term, "Man", because Man relegated women to the status of
invisibility. They do the same thing when they use the term, "Woman,"
because it renders those of us who are Afro American, Latina, Asian,
working class, welfare mothers, and homeless women to that very same
status of invisibility. (21)
Davis critiques the feminist movement because she feels that it must be
trans-formed in order to lead the way to a new social order. (22)
Elizabeth Spelman, philosopher and teacher at Smith College, also
struggles with the issue of "adding on ,! class and race to the issue of gender.
She believes that any discussion of "women" — i.e., the "essential woman" —
which does not acknowledge class and race realities is, in fact, always about
white, middle-strata women. According to Spelman, white, middle-strata
feminists tend to assume that, when we talk about "woman", we are somehow
getting down to "the essence" of womanhood in a way that is not possible when
we include poor and racial ethnic women. This leads us to assume that there
is a homogeneity among women. This "desire to deny differences among women
may be an expression of a desire not to expose one's status as the norm from
which others differ, or it may be an insistence that all women are after all
basically just alike--u.ndernea.th, everyone is just like me. "(23) Spelman
advocates that we lift up the reality of the "inessential women 11 — racial
ethnic, working class, lesbian--so that the feminist movement will reflect the
needs, concerns, ar.c visions of ail women.
5. Three Additional Resistances : I want to mention briefly three other
reasons we white, middle-strata clergywomen may fail to embrace Feminist
a. Lack of Information: One is quite simple; some clergywomen
have had no exposure to the Feminist Liberation perspective. They have not had
the option to consider the possibility of such change in their lives and
worldviews. This is one reason that I am writing this thesis. The final
chapter will suggest some strategies at various levels of the Presbyterian
Church which I think will help inform clergywomen about Feminist Liberation.
b. Despair? Another possible cause of resistance is despair and
discouragement. At times, we look at "the powers and principalities" of this
society and -feel that, no matter what our woridview, it will make no read
difference. Our sense of the great power of the death-rendering -forces we
oppose is not exaggerated. What's more, we can see it echoed in the
experience of the Women's Movement in the early 1900s. Sharon Welch addresses
The Women's Peace Party avoided the error so often identified as the
cause of women's defeat, the appeal to reform the public sphere because
of dangers to the home, yet they were defeated as easily as other
women's groups. Schott goes on to name the external causes for the
death of the Women's Peace Party. 'The failure of that vision to
materialize was due less to faults in the theoretical basis for women's
action and more to the powerful structural barriers of a patriarchal
society.' The defeat of the Women's Peace Party and other women
reformers was not primarily due to the inadequacies of theory or
strategy. They were, quite simply, outmaneuvered. Hen had greater
economic and political power, more control over newspapers and
publishing, and thus more control over popular perceptions. Any theory,
any strategy, any definition of woman could be turned against
Welsh goes on to challenge us not to despair because of this reality but
rather to use it to make us stronger and more hopeful as we develop our
theories, determine our strategies, and implement our actions:
This could seem grim, but my conclusion is not pessimistic. I see
it rather as a call for suppleness of mind, clarity of vision and
purpose. We can think, organize, and act with greater focus given this
awareness, doing our theoretical work well, but holding it lightly,
valuing the human connections it serves more than the cerebral
connections it makes.
...Just as theory separated from community can be most easily
distorted, theoretical work grounded in community offers a better chance
for political success, and this for several reasons. If demonstrated
faulty, incomplete, or even distorted, the base remains for engendering
other theories, other theologies and thealogies, and future resistance —
the experience from which critical thought is developed. ... (25)
c. Isolation: The last reason I shall cite here for the
resistance to Feminist Liberation is isolation. During our gathering in
April, 1989, the white, middle-strata clergywomen with whom I met identified
isolation as one of the greatest obstacles to risk-taking and paradigm shifts
in their own lives. The isolation can be geographical, theological,
political, structural, emotional, etc. Janelle (one of the ciergywomen at the
gathering) reflected this isolation when she described an experience she had
while working within the national structures of the Presbyterian Church. She
felt isolated and rejected by women related to Church Employed Women when she
remained on the staff while other women executives were laid off:
...I had no political savvy or political base. I was really a very new
feminist* ... The cost from that battle was ten years of diqqinq out from
underneath because a lot of the bad stuff that got going between me and
Church Employed Women, I think, came out of that mess... .It was a cycle
that I could not seem to break.... The part that I needed to look at in
response to your question is what was the payoff for me in all of this,
as much pain as it was. The part I had to face up to is that the payoff
might have been that 1 had some excuse not to be more effective in the
system. It is like I had this anchor on me. It was somehow their fault
because we were not making this energy work together but it was getting
pulled apart. But there must have been something inside of me that was
contributing to keeping the cycle going. The fact was that I felt hurt
and angry not to get the support from the very group that I needed
support from. It meant that I felt very vulnerable for years.
Janelle was unable to take many risks during this period because she was too
isolated from the support she needed. Again, some of the strategies in
Chapter VII, I hope, may help us think about how we can reduce the chances of
By no stretch of the imagination have I offered an exhaustive list of
reasons we might have for resisting Feminist Liberation as a perspective
around which to organize our lives and ministries. To move beyond our fears,
our bondage to liberal ideology, our failure to understand the full nature of
sexism, our refusal to acknowledge our privilege, and our incapacity to
overcome our isolation and despair will bring dramatic changes in our lives.
The decision to move in this direction is frauqht with anxieties and danqer;
yet to do so can be transformative and life-giving. The challenge of Feminist
Liberation is for us to take the risk.
1. In the last three chapters I will address myself directly to white, middle-
strata Presbyterian clergywomen because I wish to stand with them as I
consider how Feminist Liberation may impact our lives and ministries.
2. Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider (Freedom: The Crossing Press, 1984), pp. 41-2.
3. I read this book after I wrote Chapter II, and I was pleased to see how my
views paralleled some of those in this book.
Alice Evans, Robert Evans, and William Kennedy, Pedagogies for the Non-Poor
(Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1989), pp. 234-5.
4. Douglas Kellner, "Ideology, Marxism, and Advanced Capitalism," Socialist
Review 8 , No. 6, Nov. /Dec, 1978, p. 38, as quoted by Alice Evans, Robert
Evans, and William Kennedy, Pedagogies for the Non-Poor , p. 268.
5. Gibson Winter, Liberating Creation: Foundations of Religious Social
Ethics (New York, Crossroad Press, 1981, p. 97. as quoted by Alice Evans,
Robert Evans, and William Kennedy, Pedagogies for the Non-Poor , p. 235.
6. Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider , p. 112.
7. Paulo Freire, Consultation on "Pedagogies for the Non-Poor," at Claremont
School of Theology on November 17-18, 1983, as quoted by Alice Evans, Robert
Evans, and William Kennedy, Pedagogies for the Non-Poor , pp. 219-20.
8. Alice Evans, Robert Evans, and William Kennedy, Pedagogies for the Non-
Poor . p. 270.
9. Ibid, pp. 275-282. (See Appendix K for expanded summary in which I have
quoted brief sections of Evans description of each element needed for
10. Susan Griffin, "The Way of All Ideology, Signs Vol. 7(3), Spring, 1982)
11. Ibid., pp. 659-60.
12. Marilyn Frye, The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory (Freedom:
The Crossing Press, 1983), p. 11.
13. Ibid., pp. 4-5.
14. Women often see what is wrong in our lives as our individual -failure
rather than as a social and political reality.
15. Susan Griffin, Signs , p. 659.
16. Rich, Adrienne, On Lies. Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978
(New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1979), p. 189.
17. Robert McAfee Brown, Theology in a New Key: Responding to Liberation
Themes (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978), pp. 133-4.
18. Harilyn Frye, The Politics of Reality , p. 111.
19. Ibid., p. 121.
20. It is not really possible to set aside one's privilege because it is often
an immutable aspect of one's identity, but one can put aside the prerogatives
which go with that privilege.
21. Taped speech given at Simeons College in the Fall of 1989.
22. Isn't it fascinating that it would be Angela Davis, through her books and
speech, who would contribute so significantly to my new understanding of
feminism? In looking back in retrospect, I am proud of the Legal Defense Fund
Committee of the United Presbyterian Church for its action in 1971 to matce a
grant to Angela's legal defense. I now understand in a new way why it was the
right thing to do even if we had known the price we would pay in the loss of
hundreds of members and millions of dollars. As a black, feminist, communist
woman, Angela Davis represented many of the groups who have no privilege in
this society. What better way for the Presbyterian Church, whose membership
is primarily made up of people with race and class privilege, to act out its
commitment to justice. How tragic that this event in our history is
interpreted in such negative terms!
23. Elizabeth Spelman, Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist
Thought (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988), p. 175.
24. Sharon Welch, "Ideology and Social Change," in Judith Plaskow and Carol
P. Christ, Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality (San
Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1989), p. 339.
25. Ibid., p. 341.
The Vision for and the Implications of Feminist Liberation
in the Lives and Ministries, of White, Middle-Strata Presbyterian Clergywomen
In Chapter III, I have brought together eight elements of Feminist
Liberation with the lives and works of three Feminist Liberation theologians.
In Chapter V, I indicated some of the resistances that often block white,
•iddle-strata Presbyterian clergywomen from daring to embrace Feminist
Liberation. In this chapter I will focus specifically on what it means for us
to say "NO" to our old relationship with the Presbyterian Church and what
difference it would make in our lives and ministries if we withstood the
temptations to resist Feminist Liberation.
Saying "NO" to Our Old Relationship with the Presbyterian Church : When
we dare to say "YES" to Feminist Liberation, we are definitely saying "NO" to
many other things. We endeavor to say "NO" to that which is not liberating
and not a part of passionate living. As I have mentioned, this may mean that
we have to say farewell to certain types of employment, to particular personal
relationships, to various of our privileges, to specific ideologies and
theologies, to many of our commitments, to some of our views about ourselves,
and even to our very lives. Probably most threatening to many clergywomen is
the fact that we may have to say "NO" to our present relationship with the
Presbyterian Church or with the Christian faith for that matter.
1. Fear of Reprisals mnd Losses ; To challenge the nature of our
relationship with the Presbyterian Church may mean finding ourselves under-
employed or unemployed, for there will be those who will perceive this
challenge as too radical. We «ay be seen as unfit to hold positions in the
Presbyterian Church. Having experienced underemployment most of my career and
having known unemployment for months on end several times, I do not wish to
understate the risk and stress of such economic hardships. I do know,
however, that it is possible to endure such hardships, especially when they
are directly or indirectly related to one's commitments to justice and
liberation. We may -find ourselves having to be resourceful about finding
employment, sometimes outside the church; to live more simply, and to find
supportive persons with and from whoa we will continue to find vision and hope
to sustain us when the going gets rough so we can keep on keeping on.
So what's new, sisters? Many of us have already had to face such
frightening times merely because we are women, regardless of our political or
theological perspectives. At the General Assembly of 1971, I attended a
conference for professional women employed by the church. At this conference,
one clergywoman shared that she didn't know where her next bite was coming
from, another told of a miscarriage she had just experienced because of the
stress she was under, and one of the educators said that she had worked in the
same church for 14 years and her salary was less than the custodian's (a man)
who had just been employed the year before. I became so angry and appalled by
what I saw the church doing to the women it employed that I declared myself a
feminist before the end of the meeting. The rest is history.
It may now be that if we are feminist liberationists, we will experience
similar economic hardships because of our political and theological
perspectives. This gives me some real comfort and strength; I no longer feel
like a victim, for I have made a choice to hold to these liberating political
and theological perspectives regardless of the consequences! What's more, a
decision to take risks with our economic security may make it easier for us to
practice the theology of relinquishment, in which we willingly open our hands
and release what has always belonged to those who have nothing. Marie Augusta
Neal makes this point clearly:
When the gospel is re-read in view of current data about population and
resources, two distinct messages are revealed, one for the poor and one
for the non-poor (Senior and Stuhlroueller, oottwald; Gutierrez, 1983).
For the poor, the good news is that the land belongs to them (Lev. 25).
For the non-poor, it is that God will not abandon them as they release
their grip on the things poor people need to survive. (1)
Another frightening aspect of becoming Feminist Liberationists is that
we will find ourselves even more marginalized within the Presbyterian Church
than we may already feel ourselves to be. We all know what that feels like
because we are women, and many of us also experience other marginalizing
realities in our lives. We know it can be lonely and fear-provoking to be
forced to the margin by those who, by reason of their privilege, hold on to
their position in the center in a way reminiscent of the game, King of the
Mountain, I used to play as a child in the Mojave Desert. In this game, the
biggest, strongest, or fastest child would keep the rest of the children off
the top (center) of the hill usually by flinging them off. We often feel as
if we are being flung out of the church. Such an experience may lead us to a
new understanding of our relationships with one another and the church.
2. The Possibility of Leaving the Church : Embracing Feminist Liberation
forces us to face yet another frightening prospect that brings most of us a
lot of pain; the possibility that we may not be able to remain clergywomen in
the Presbyterian Church or in any other church for that matter. A number of
the clergywomen, with whom I met in April, 1989, and whose views and ideas are
reflected in Chapter IV, indicated that 4hey may not be mile to stick it out
with the church in the future. For me, it is a daily question whether I will
stay or leave. I find, as I get further and further away from the
"traditional dogma" of the Presbyterian Church, that I have to ask whether or
not my personal integrity is badly threatened. It is not only that I am far
afield from much of that to which the institutional church holds but it also
appears that the Presbyterian Church is drifting further away from where my
spiritual and political commitments are. The institutional church often
contaminates my sense of what I am to do and be in order to be faithful to
•yself, to others, and to God. Yet I know that I am not yet ready to leave
the church. When one of «y former students in Peru and one of the first
Methodist clergywomen in that country says she may leave the church in the
near future, I know I am not ready to take that step. Too many resistances
come up for me. I don't want her to leave the church, but I know that she may
have to leave for her own sake. And I must stay for my sake, at least, for
Why do I stay in the church at this point? Because I will always be a
Christian even if I leave the church. Even if I wanted to declare myself a
non-Christian, my life would continue to be imbued with Christian values and
assumptions from which I could not escape. I can question, and even reject,
some of those Christian values and assumptions, but I will find them springing
forth at the most unexpected moments. Ouite practically, I also realize that
the church provides me with a base from which to operate in the world and even
with funds, at times, to do what I want to do, such as those which helped me
get groups of women together to discuss the issues of this thesis. It is also
in the church where I have my connections with many women who believe as I do.
And lastly, I also have a very deep sense of not wanting to leave the church
to those whose commitments are antithetical to my own. To leave would be
abdicating ay power and my responsibility to work toward change and radical
transformation within the Presbyterian Church.
3. Questioning the Viability o-f the Presbyterian Church ; In addition to
deciding whether I wish to continue in the church, remain ordained, or
identify myself as Christian, I must consider whether I believe the
Presbyterian Church to be viable and able to embody the justice and liberation
that are its very reasons for being. I have a deep apprehension that unless
the PCUSA changes drastically within the next ten years, it will die or
implode as a result of its own internal corruption. Transformation is
desperately needed. It may be those of us who answer the call of Feminist
Liberation who can help lead the rest of the church to a new day. If we
accept such a role, we will probably be part of the remnant, but a large
remnant — because we are not alone. Others share our vision. It is a vision
that compels participation in the struggles of people of color, of gay men and
lesbians, of those with lower incomes, of persons with disabilities, etc.
The Presbyterian Church will have to decide whether it wishes to follow
the same old fruitless routines and die as a result or whether it will move
into a new day. Such a vision was grasped by Walter Brueggemann in his
address at the dedication o-f the Presbyterian Center (new national
headquarters building) in Louisville, Kentucky, in October, 1988. He was
aware o-f many of the risks which Presbyterians faced as we moved into a new
location, and he used Isaiah to challenge us. He closed his comments with
My suggestion is that our dominant tale has run out in exhaustion
and displacement. In such a situation there is no easy or quick
response. There is only the slow, hard work of poetic alternative.
This poetic alternative begins in recognizing our true situation: it
•oves by subversive evangelical lips uttering hopes and possibilities;
it may end in new people, new community, new creation....
Hy thought is that this fresh beginning in Louisville is no simple
bureaucratic maneuver, though it can readily be reduced to that. This
new beginning is only partly a looking back to end the war (Civil War)
that has wrenched us so painfully apart. It is more an act of hope, a
hunch that the narrative which has run out Bay be re-entered in a -fresh
way. It is an act of hope that there might be birthed a new -faith, a
new mission, and a new worship which can again -feed and nurture the body
politic back to health.
...We can only stand in readiness for what God may do. But that
standing in readiness requires the use of intentional disciplines which
in every case are marked by danger:
..dangerous memories reaching all the way back to our barren
..dangerous criticism which mocks the deadly empire;
-.dangerous promises which imagine a shift of power in the
..dangerous songs which sing of unexpected newness of life;
. . dangerous bread free of all imperial ovens; all leadinq
..dangerous departures of heart and body and mind, leavings
undertaken in trust and obedience. <2>
In the same spirit, Letty Russell suggests how we can survive in the
present situation while anticipating the transformed reality:
...To live in the present setting but to be constantly living out of an
alternative future reality is to be bi-cultural . . . . By knowing the social
structures and psychological dynamics of the old house of bondage, we
can work to subvert those structures and to limit their power in our
lives and institutions. Subversion is most certainly one way of
standing against the powers in this time before the full realisation of
God's eschatological household. (3)
Our hope comes in our living as if it were true that liberation is possible
and that we have an urgent part in it. For those who decide to stay with the
Presbyterian Church, there is much subversive work for us to do. (4) The saae
is true for those who decide to leave. We also have much to do wherever we
put our energy, time and commitment. We are all called to live out a life-
giving vision that calls for real change and offers real hope.
It is true that as a result of embracing Feminist Liberation, our
relationship with the Presbyterian Church must change. Our conversion to the
radical transformation called for in Feminist Liberation seems momentarily to
shrink our world by catapulting us away -from familiar locations and
relationships but it paradoxically also expands our consciousness and our
world. For example, as I -find myself leaving behind some o-f my old
friendships, commitments, and prerogatives, I find that new ones are taking
their places. Although I sometimes mourn the loss of the familiar, I am
learning to rejoice in the new opportunities. Increasingly, I am realizing
that I have many more relationships with other marginalized persons in the
church, in our society, and around the world; relationships of trust and love.
I have so much to learn, and I have the support and friendship needed to make
myself vulnerable to new people and open to new ventures. I only wish this
period in my life had come sooner, but I am grateful that it has come at last!
Saying "YES" to Feminist Liberation : When we embrace Feminist
Liberation, both our lives and ministries are changed in dramatic ways.
1. The Healing of Our Beings : The integration of Feminist Liberation
into our lives causes our most basic sense of ourselves to be transformed.
Our very beings are scarred and wounded from the dehumanizing contortions we
have suffered in our effort to survive both in the church and in the society.
We need healing from the wounds that have resulted from the hatred of women in
our society, from the rejection we have experienced because we dared to be
clergywomen, from the dualism of body and spirit which is manifested in our
lives, from the stress we put ourselves under to be "superwomen", and from the
broken relationships we experience due to sexism, heterosexism, racism,
classism, able-bodism, ageism, etc. Barbara Deaing expresses so well the
feelings of emptiness and fear which emerge in these experiences:
I lie at the bottom of my spirit's well
And try to still my breath
And still my heart
That staggers in my side
Like an uneven wheel.
Above me, agitation of the waters.
Some of this motion is life,
Some is death.
Each is mistaken for the other,
In panic, often, that turns to wrath,
I see that wrath cut back
Everything new, green, that we try to begin.
And will life or will death prevail?
hy fear is asking the question
And the answer to fear, of course, is Death.
I lie at the bottom of my spirit's well.
If I lie quiet here
Can I elude my fear? (5)
We often find that our pain and fear keep us from finding the healing we
need. I can remember a time when the clergywomen of a presbytery of which I
was a member could not find time to be together, even though many of us were
hurting. We just had too much to do, and we needed to preserve whatever space
we had for ourselves. Feminist Liberation points out that we cannot heal
ourselves in isolation. Our healing occurs in community. For too long we
have been unsuccessful in trying to heal ourselves by ourselves or in
insulated relationships, such as traditional therapy. Rita Nakashima Brock,
an Asian American theologian, offers some wisdom:
...In our pain is the power of self-knowledge that brings us to a
healing wisdom and compassion. We will not be made whole and healed
until the truth of our lives can be seen and told. Asian American women
have begun to understand this in our own journeys of speaking
bitterness, of telling our own pain in a community of sisters who hear
our gentle murmurs of loneliness and suffering and mirror ourselves back
to us. We understand this mirroring as a way of embracing all
suffering. The capacity to suffer with the world leads us to a sense of
the community of all creation. However, in acknowledging suffering, I
prefer to make the focus not so much as cross-centered suffering, but a
community-centered one, the global community of all creation. (6)
When such healing occurs in our lives, we will be healthier because our
bodies, minds, psyches, and souls will be more nearly experienced as whole
gestalts, with integrity. We will no longer tiave * sense of being dis-
integrating fragments with no sense of wholeness. In fact, we will be truly
embodied. We actually will be living out our commitment to Feminist
Liberation. As a result, our high stress levels will give way to greater
serenity and peace. We will actually have time -for joy and play! Our healing
will be profound. We will be ready to step out in a healing way toward
others,, toward all of creation and toward our God. This kind of healing power
is reflected in a poem by Elizabeth Tapia, a Filipina:
WHO AM I?
I am a woman
I am Filipino
I am alive
I am struggling
I am hoping
I am created in the image of God
just like all other people of the world;
I am a person with worth and dignity
I am a thinking person, a feeling person,
a doing person.
I am the small I am that stands before
the big I AM
I am a worker who is constantly challenged
and faced with the needs of the church and
society in Asia and in the global community.
I am angered by the structures and powers
that create all forms of oppression, exploitation
I am a witness to the moans, tears, banners and
clenched fists of my people.
I can hear their liberating songs, their hopeful
prayers and decisive march toward justice and
I believe that all of us — women and men
young and old, Christians and all others —
are called upon to do responsible action;
to be concerned
to be involved
I aa hoping
I am struggling
I am alive
I am Filipino
I aa a woman. (7)
2. Trans-forming Our Theology and Ethics : Another great impact which
Feminist Liberation will have in the lives and ministries of those of us who
ar white, middle-strata Presbyterian clergywomen is in our theological and
ethical perspectives. In our work, most o-f us have already challenged the
theology and ethics which have predominated in the Presbyterian Church and in
most other churches in the United States. However, most o-f us have been
working on the basis of a Liberal Feminist perspective. This has enabled us
to make some adjustments to, but not to transform, the prevailing models of
theology and ethics.
Turning to Feminist Liberation, we find that nothing is too sacred to be
questioned or challenged. Alison Cheek, one of my colleagues, says that in
Feminist Liberation Theology, "the sacred cows bellow." It is frightening to
do this work because we do not know exactly where we are going. We fear we
will have nothing left if we put everything up for question. Even if we do
come away with something to which we are committed, we will once again,
experience the void of having no language and images which express our new
commitments and experiences. (8) I find this particularly threatening because
since becoming a feminist nearly 20 years ago, I have not yet found language
and images which offer me meaningful rituals.
Although I have described some of the essential elements of Feminist
Liberation, I believe that it is important for me to describe here
specifically how my theology and ethics have been modified as Feminist
Liberation has become the motivating force in ay life and ministry. (9)
a. Theology and Ethics Hust Be Justice-Centered : Doing justice has
always been important to my understanding of being a Christian. For some
lime, »y attitude has been if our theology and ethics do not result in the
doing of justice, what good are they? It seems to me that we must be about
eradicating the violence done to the most vulnerable and powerless
persons/groups by more dominant persons/groups caught up in the cycle o-f
violence manifested in the structures and institutions of our society. There
is no safe place for the oppressed within an unjust situation. Without
justice there is no moral solution. Feminist Liberation has re-enforced my
commitment to justice and has helped me understand how justice is the way in
which we restore right-relation with other human beings, with all creation,
with ourselves, and with God. Beverly Harrison boldly makes the claim for a
justice-centered theological ethic:
The basic theological hermeneutic, or principle of interpretation, of
liberation theologies places justice, as communal right-relationship, at
the center of a proper understanding of spirituality. On this reading,
theological utterance evokes our shared passion for justice. Our common
longing for a world ''where there are not excluded ones'" as literally the
form divine presence takes among us. (10)
God is seen as being a just God who demonstrates justice in liberation, and we
are called to participate in that liberating process.
b. Theology and Ethics tiust Generate Horal Agency : Our theology and
ethics, if they are to be consistent with Feminist Liberation, must strongly
hold up the truth that people are subjects of history. We are not objects who
are to be acted upon as though we do not matter. Human beings are moral
agents who together have responsibilities and rights to bring an end to
alienation and violence and to participate in the creating of a vision of a
new social order toward -which we move communally. This understanding of moral
agency has called me to demonstrate confidence in the power of communities to
be self-determining and self-transforming. This new understanding forces me
to interrupt ay maternalistic tendencies which reveal my deep-seated belief
that I really know better how to guide the liberating process through which
someone or some group is going. Ada Maria Isasi Diaz and Yolanda Tarango
challenge us to a profound sense of moral agency:
In its attempts to develop an adequate social ethics, Hispanic Women's
Liberation Theology starts by asserting that the individual as a moral
agent is 'responsible for both interpersonal and social life.' This
does away with separating the private from the public sphere of
morality. Furthermore, Hispanic Women will no longer allow themselves
to be confined to the private sphere. They will adamantly insist that,
because they are moral agents, they have an active role to play in
social transformation. <11)
Without this belief in moral agency, there would be no base on which to build
a commitment to mutual and just relationships. There would be no base for a
liberating and transforming theology and ethics.
c. Theology and Ethics Must Encourage Risk-Taking : Feminist Liberation
involves risk-taking in relation to our theological perspectives. The ethical
principles that emanate from these perspectives in turn lay the base for how
we live our lives. I have found it difficult to "relax" into risk-taking, for
there is so much about my background that tells me to be careful, to do the
right thing, to be good, to be nice, to be Christian. It feels as if I am
either willing to take only the risks which do not matter in the long run or
take risks for the wrong reasons. It is an endless struggle to discern which
risks to take and how to take them so that they will have the liberating
effect for which I would hope.
Recently I experienced a risk-taking opportunity to which I responded.
I was in a gathering of women struggling with Feminist Liberation theology and
ethics in which one of the women of color called one of the white women on
what she considered to be maternalistic and racist behavior. The response of
the group was typical: there was dead silence -for at least two minutes, which
seemed like two hours. Then one of the other white women initiated a response
which related to the woman of color's comment but took us obliquely in another
direction. After several exchanges in the group, I finally screwed up my
courage and commented, with fear and trembling, that it seemed to me that when
women of color call white women on our racism, we almost always respond with
dead silence and guilt and/or we change the subject. I went on to say that I
felt that was what we had done in this exchange. Another white woman picked
up on my comment and suggested that we do it differently this time. We then
went on to have one of best conversations (in terms of openness and
insightfulness) between white and racial ethnic women in my experience. I
could never had seen clearly the dynamics of this exchange, nor felt moved to
take this risk, if it had not been for Feminist Liberation. This perspective
challenges me to grow in my understanding of the relationships among women of
various races and classes and to take risks involved in building right
relation with women who are different from me as well as with those who are
d. Theology and Ethics Must Help Strengthen Communal Right-Relation :
Feminist Liberation leads us to a theology and an ethics which call us to work
in a "communal conspiracy." We cannot bring about justice and transformation
alone. We must work in community and solidarity with others, especially those
who have been most oppressed and excluded. Kasuke Koyama has said, "I am
because we are, and, because we are, I am. "(12) Me must seek a "we-ness" with
the poor and oppressed which empowers both them and us as we address the
issues of injustice in our society.
Creating a "communal conspiracy" will not be an easy task for us, for as
Sally, one of the racial ethnic clergywomen with whom I consulted, warns,
white, a id die-strata women usually have very little sense of the communal:
...As a class o-f people, white, middle-strata, -feminist clergywomen have
never been socialized into a concept o-f "my people" -for survival or any-
other liberating purpose. They have only been socialized ambivalently
about class and race issues in opposition to "the other" so as to
protect whatever they were told was the status quo.... The implications
are seemingly no community o-f accountability and little support in the
sense o-f "so great a cloud o-f witnesses" even when nobody is physically
around to give a hug.
Yet the need for white, middle-strata clergywomen to break through this
barrier o-f individualism and isolation is pro-found. It is a matter o-f li-fe
and death -for others and -for ourselves as well. Separated, we have no power
to save ourselves or bring about the changes we desire in our communities.
We cannot limit ourselves to working communally only with each other as
white middle strata clergywomen. We must move out to build coalitions and
alliances with other justice-loving groups. Even when we recognize our need
•for coalitions, we sometimes either romanticize the process, believing naively
that it is easy or we think it is something we can initiate unilaterally.
Spelman has -formulated some questions in relation to the building of
coalitions between white women and women of color. They are disturbing
questions which reflect how difficult the process of coalition-building is:
...What is the need (to hear from women of color)? Is it to give
legitimacy to a movement that already reflects the priorities of women
not yet heard from? Is it to make other women feel as if they count,
regardless of how well we listen or what we decide to do with what we
hear? Does the fact of our having a need mean they ought to satisfy it?
Is the reason we haven't heard them before that they haven't spoken, or
that we haven't listened? Is hearing from them the same thing as
talking with them? Are we really willing to hear anything and
everything they might have to say, or only *hat me don't find too
disturbing? Are we prepared to hear what they say, even if it requires
learning concepts or whole languages that we don't yet understand? (13)
Having been involved in groups that thought we mere really trying to
honor the importance of building coalitions, I believe that there is a real
sense in which white, middle-strata women often want to have the increased
credibility of having women Df color and/or poor women present at our events —
but we still want to call the shots. We still want to control the process of
determining what the major issues are, planning and implementing our
strategies, and getting most o-f the credit. Many times we participate in
coalitions in good faith, but our privilege shows up over and over again.
Coalition building between white women and women of color and/or poor women
can be enormously difficult, as Bernice Reagon's illustrates in her
description of white women inviting women of color into our "room":
The first thing that happens is that the room don't feel like the
room anymore. (Laughter) And it ain't home no more. It is not a womb
no more. And you can't feel comfortable no more. ...You don't do no
coalition building in a womb. ... Inside the womb you generally are very
soft and unshelled. You have no covering. And you have no ability to
handle what happens if you start to let folks in who are not like you.
Coalition work is not work done in your home. Coalition work has
to be done in the streets. And it is some of the most dangerous work
you can do. And you shouldn't look for corn-fort. Some people will come
to a coalition and they rate the success of the coalition on whether or
not they feel good when they get there. They're not looking for a
coalition; they're looking for a home!. ..You don't get fed a lot in a
coalition. In a coalition you have to give, and it is different from
your home. You can't stay there all the time. You go to the coalition
for a few hours and then you go back and take your bottle (baby)
wherever it is, and then you go back and coalesce some more.
...If coalition is so bad, and so terrible, and so uncomfortable,
why is it necessary?. .. Because the barred rooms will not be allowed to
exist. They will all be wiped out. This is the plan that we now have
in front of us. (14)
As Reagon suggests, however, as difficult as coalition-building is, we must
suffer through it because there is no other way to survive.
e. TheoloQv and Ethics Hust Reflect and Celebrate Our Embodiment ;
Beverly Harrison makes a strong statement about the importance of embodiment
in our theology and ethics:
If we are being, as feminists must, with 'our bodies, ourselves,* we
recognize that all our knowledge, including our moral knowledge, is
body-mediated knowledge. All knowledge is rooted in our sensuality. We
know and value the world. If we know and value it, through our ability
to touch, to hear, to see. .. .Feeling is the basic bodily ingredient that
mediates our connectedness to the world.... If feeling is damaged or cut
off, our power to image the world and act into it is destroyed and our
rationality is impaired. But it is not merely the power to conceive the
world that is lost. Our power to value the world gives way as well. If
we are not perceptive in discerning our feelings, or if we do not know
what we feel, we cannot be effective ©oral agents.... In the absence of
feeling there is no rational ability to evaluate what is happening.
Failure to live deeply in 'our bodies, ourselves" destroys the
possibility of moral relations between us. (15)
We white, middle-strata clergywomen are challenged by Feminist Liberation to
affirm our sexual/sensual/erotic selves. In so doing we begin to carry out
our moral obligations within our personal and societal relationships. When I
look back on my own career and life, I am aware that it has been in those
periods when I was most in touch with my body and my sexuality (usually when I
was in a mutually loving relationship), that I have been the most involved in
bringing about political and social change. During those times in my life, I
have been the most willing to take risks, the most astute in my perceptions of
the political scene, and the most effective in my political strategy and
action. I don't believe that this has been an accident. Neither do I not
think it was coincidental that my first genital/sexual experience (with a dear
friend) came only hours after we both participated in a powerful demonstration
in Riverside Church on behalf of Episcopal women and their inclusion in the
life of their denomination.
I believe that one of the ways in which things stay the way they are is
that the oppressive systems within our society keep us out of touch with our
erotic, sensual, sexual selves. As a result, we are out of touch with the
vital life force within us, and without it our lives are anemic and sterile.
Lorde's vivid description of the erotic shows how essential it is "for us to
embrace the erotic with all of its power:
During World War II, we bought sealed plastic packets o-f white,
uncolored margarine, with a tiny, intense pellet o-f yellow coloring
perched like a topaz just inside the clear skin o-f the bag. We would
leave the margarine out for a while to so-ften, and then we Mould pinch
the little pellet to break it inside the bag, releasing the rich
yellowness into the soft pale mass of margarine. Then taking it
carefully between our fingers, we would knead it gently back and forth,
over and over, until the color had spread throughout the whole pound bag
of margarine, thoroughly coloring it.
I find the erotic such a kernel within myself. When released from
its intense and constrained pellet, it flows through and colors my life
with a kind of energy that heightens and sensitizes and strengthens all
my experience. (16)
To be embodied with a strong sense of the erotic life force within us, we are
not only put in touch with ourselves in a necessary way but also with others,
with all creation and with God. To know God is to live our lives
passionately, fully in touch with our whole selves. Indeed, our experience of
our erotic power is an experience of sacred power as Heyward suggests. She
describes the struggle involved in affirming and experiencing this reality:
...Our relational vision remains unfulfilled. The erotic
continues to be distorted, wreaking abuse and confusion among us. We do
not yet live perfectly in the realm of the sacred and, in this world, we
never will. Yet we are drawn toward the possibility of living more
fully together as friends and lovers. We believe that this possibility
is within our reach, and our faith is not merely idle speculation. We
are not deluded. We move toward that which, through intimation and
glimpses, intuitions and relationships, we know already to be real.
....Daring to risk sharing this life together, coming into our
YES, anointing one another's wounds as healers, each in her own way, we
discover with greater confidence the authority among us that can be
trusted to help us sustain our power in mutual relation. Steeped in the
sacred relational spirit that has moved and empowered friends and lovers
from the beginning, we yearn to be true to ourselves in relation,
touched by and touching one another in the soul of who we are together
and in each of our deepest places. (17)
Feminist Liberation theology and ethics declares that we can only enter into
just right-relations with ourselves, with others *nd with our God if those
relations are embodied. Me are called to incarnate God's new creation.
■f. Theology and Ethics Must Be Contextual ; Feminist Liberation calls
us beyond the assumption of much theology and ethics that they can be
universally applied to all persons in all settings. Rather Feminist
Liberation insists that our theology and ethics can only be developed and
applied within the particular context in which we live and act. Theology and
ethics, according to Feminist Liberation, are not culture-, society-, or
social location-neutral. In other words, our theology and ethics cannot be
applied unaltered, i-f then, to other cultural contexts. The theology and
ethics which -fit a particular people in a particular place and time must be
developed by that people as they re-flect upon their particular experience.
This does not mean that one group or culture cannot learn -from the theology
and ethics o-f other groups or cultures, but, in the last analysis, each group
must struggle to find the words and actions which best reflect their
experience theologically and ethically.
Doris (one of the racial ethnic clergywomen with whom I consulted)
helped me to see how one's context impacts one's theological and ethical
understanding when she shared how the concept of "chosen people" reflected in
scripture is oppressive to her and to others:
...when one is a participant in, draws identity from and enjoys the
privileges of the system, then it is hard to recognize that the
historical fabric of the institution is interwoven with injustice.
Injustice is at the very root of the Church and in some ways
Christianity itself. Any institution that starts from the premise of
"chosen persons" (My note: The notion of the Israelites' being chosen
people and then extrapolated to Christians) or a particular community
who are worthy to receive its message, becomes -fertile ground for
bigotry of all types.
Doris' words ring in my ears, -for her statement reminds me, once again, how my
racial context and privilege tiave protected me -from knowing how the concept of
"chosen people" can be and has been perverted and used to underscore and
rein-force privilege. The concept was -first applied to an oppressed people
(The Israelites were oppressed by the Egyptians.), but now it has often been
contorted to enhance the privilege o-f those in power. Doris' own context
within the Black community has helped her to identify the dangerous
implications of a much used theological concept within the Christian
community. She has also helped me to see the concept in a new way.
This brings me to the seemingly paradoxical realization that Feminist
Liberation also calls us to resist the temptation to develop our theology and
ethics in isolation within our own groups of identity. We must always be open
to the theology and ethics being developed outside our own groups. Our
theological and ethical development may begin within the context of our own
lives but always within the larger arena of the many contexts found in our
society and world. The Mudflower Collective reminds us that the context of
our theology and ethics must be our lives in community:
...In asserting that we must begin with the study of our lives, we
incur the danger of turning inward, even when the inwardness is toward
our people and not only into our individual selves. In terms of
accountability, feminist theory and feminist theology cannot merely be
the weaving together of a person's, or a group's experiences....
Beginning with our lives, we must do so in as diverse a cultural
situation as we can find — if not face to face with people of different
cultures, then at least through engagement with their books, art, music,
and rituals. Educationally, this pluralism requires that we learn to
listen more astutely, that we suspend the urge to idolatrize our own
perceptions and beliefs, and that we challenge one another rather than
acting like passive receptors. Ada (Ada Maria Isasi Diaz) maintains, U I
don't want my diversity simply to be respected. I want it to challenge
you, to rub against you. "(IB)
Itfe must hold our own context in a creative tension with those of other persons
we encounter. When we dare to allow their contexts to impact our context,
then the theology and ethics that emerge will avoid the danger of parochial
thought and will have a ring of truth which results from that dynamic
g. Theology and Ethics Must Be Connect ional ; Feminist Liberation brings
us to an understanding that all things are connected. There are no isolated
persons, events, or ideas. Everything is connected to everything. We cannot
develop or live our theology or ethics without seeing that there are
connections among all aspects of our beings, among all the peoples o-f our
global community, and among all parts of the created order. We no longer
honor the dualisms, such as body vs. spirit, public vs. private, personal vs.
political, enemies vs. friends, humans vs. creatures, etc. My travels in
"enemy" countries (Nicaragua and the USSR) helped me to see how dualisms are
defined for us by the powers that be. We are told who our enemies are to be.
When we dare to transcend the barriers set up between us and our enemies we
discover that there are many more connections than barriers between us. Such
experiences inculcate in us a sense of global family which is not possible so
long as some people are defined as enemies.
Sally (one of the racial ethnic clergywomen who responded to the white,
middle-class clergywomen' s work) indicates her strong sense of this
connectional reality, especially as she works with international students on a
Making Connections means understanding my own and my communities
of affinities' particularities and moving from those centers to the
disclosures of the particularities of others. It is the opposite of the
dualistic hierarchies which seek to isolate and separate people...
In the last eight years in campus ministry on a large urban,
working class and racially diverse campus, this sense of "making
connections" has been very strong and growing increasingly each year.
This growth has not necessarily come as a result of the things I have
done, but more often as a result of who I an and how I have enlarged and
been enlarged through my own struggles and those of persons and groups
not like me. . . .
Having visited the homes of students halfway across the globe in
some war-torn area or being confronted with the total physical
vulnerability of the urban ghetto and its violence in my immediate
workplace, I have come to feel that I have no time for those who seek
safe places or want to retreat from risk, i.e., ideologies/theologies of
the liberal or status quo constituencies. That does not mean that I am
fearless! It just means I can't go home again. It also means that I
prioritize my personal, spiritual and political relationships on a
different basis, although I would be hard pressed to describe the
difference as it has actually been realized. One manifestation,
however, is that I no longer try to be everything... to everyone —
colleagues, parents, students, lovers, friends, etc. I thereby have
more with which to make the connections.
This is the sense of connectedness to which Feminist Liberation beckons us. A
consciousness of the interrelationship of all that we experience and perceive
with all that we have not yet experienced enables us to participate in mending
the social, global, and creational web which is life-sustaining for the whole
h. Theology and Ethics hust Be Visionary : Feminist Liberation calls us
to be a visionary people, to "see" the goals toward which we are moving.
Without such vision, we thrash around with little intention or direction,
reacting to injustices which those in power continue to perpetrate and in
which we continue to collude. In Proverbs 29:8 (KJV) we read, "Where there is
no vision, the people perish." How true! As Christian feminists, I believe
that we get some sense of our vision when we are challenged by the life and
ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Carter uses her childhood understanding of
Jesus to articulate a vision for the transforming of our world into one of
justice, love and peace:
...I heard the Jesus-story as a love story, a tale about people taking
people seriously, an image of life as we should live it together: a call
to solidarity, our daily lives spilling over with concern for one
another; advocacy for the poor, anger at hypocrisy and empty rituals and
what I would later hear Adrienne Rich call the 'lies, secrets, and
silence' which glue us together in societies dominated by unjust power-
relations. I heard the Jesus-story as an invitation to marginalized
people, outcasts, nonconformists, different sorts of .people, all those
sitting outside the gates of our public, consumer-oriented lives. ... (19)
Our new theology and ethics of the Kindom(20) -focuses its attention on those
who have traditionally been excluded -from the theological and ethical canon.
They are now to be at the center, -for it is in their midst that God is doing a
new thing! I have had the strongest sense of this reality when I have
traveled in countries in Latin America in which military dictatorships have
used the most repressive means to control those in the opposition. While
visiting in Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia in 1980, I became aware of the
courage, hope, and vision of the people, which was indefatigable in the face
of incarceration, torture, and even death. It was through their faith that I
experienced the Presence of God in a uniquely penetrating way. And so it is
that this new theology and ethics will take us from our safe enclaves into our
bodies, into the global arena, into creation, into relation with those who are
different. It is an experience of conversion and transformation.
With the healing of ourselves and the transforming of our theology and
ethics which take place within the context of Feminist Liberation, we are
ready to think together about how Feminist Liberation may be manifested in
particular strategies related to our lives and ministries. We must develop
ways in which the passionate living found in Feminist Liberation can be shared
and expanded. In Chapter VII I will offer some suggestions for where we might
begin our strategizing.
1. Marie Augusta Neal, The Just Demands of the Poor; Essays o-f Socio-Theoloqy
(New York: Paulist Press, 1987), p. 74.
2. Walter Brueggemann, Disciplines o-f Readiness (Louisville: Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.), 1988), pp. 24-5.
3. Letty Russell, Household o-f Freedom: Authority in Feminist Theology
(Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1987), p. 93.
4. Robert McAfee Brown has expanded ay notion o-f subversion in his comparison
o-f subversion and super-version:
So we begin to discern a content to praxis, although it is not a content
neatly determined in advance; it will grow out o-f, respond to, condition
and be conditioned by, the situation. But since it is praxis committed
to the poor and to the trans-formation o-f the world, undertaken -from "the
view from below," we can describe it, in the precise technical meaning
o-f the word, as subversive action . Vertir (in Latin) means "to
overthrow, to turn upside down." The Christians described in Acts 17:6
fit this very well. "Those who turned the world upside down" is the way
they were pictured. But from what stance does one turn the world upside
down? There are two possibilities: one would be super-version , turning
the world upside down "from above," for the benefit of the affluent and
the powerful; the other possibility would be sub-version , turning the
world upside down from below, for the benefit of the poor and powerless.
Christian praxis is clearly sub-version, transformation "from below," on
behalf, but finally by, "the wretched of the earth," the poor and
Robert McAfee Brown, Theology in a New Key: Responding to Liberation Themes
(Philadelphia: the Westminster Press, 1978), p. 72.
5. Jane Meyerding, ed., We Are All Part of One Another: A Barbara Deming
Reader (Philadelphia New Society Publishers, 1984), p. 206.
6. Rita Nakashima Brock, "On Mirrors, Mists, and Murmurs," in Judith Paskow
and Carol P. Christ, Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist
Spirituality (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989, p. 204.
7. Elizabeth Tapia, "Who Am I" in Iben 6jarding and Katherine Kinnaaan, eds.,
No Lonoer Strangers A Resource for Woaen and Worship (Geneva: World Council of
Churches Publications, 1983), p. 53.
6. When aany of us were first -feainists and challenged exclusive language in
worship, we found that we were left with a void when we were not always able
to replace such language and iaagery with that which expressed our new
9. I am indebted to all of my professors here at Episcopal Divinity School -for
my understanding o-f the theological and ethical implications of Feminist
Liberation, for it is in their lives and work that I see it so clearly
embodied. They are Katie Geneva Cannon, Joanna Dewey, Carter Heyward, Sue
Hiatt, and Fredrica Harris Tompsett.
10. Beverly Wildung Harrison, "Agendas for a New Theological Ethic," in
Churches in Struggle: Liberation Theologies and Social Change in North
America , ed. by William Tabb (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1986), p. 90.
11. Ada Maria Isasi Diaz and Yolanda Tarango, Hispanic Women: Prophetic Voice
in the Church (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 77.
12. From a lecture at EDS in January, 1989.
13. Elizabeth Spelman, Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist
Thought (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988), p. 163.
14. Barbara Smith, ed., Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (New York:
Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1983), pp. 359-362.
15. Beverly Harrison, Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social
Ethics , ed. by Carol Robb (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985), p. 13.
16. Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider (Freedom: The Crossing Press, 1984), p. 57.
17. Carter Heyward, Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love of
God (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), pp. 91-93.
18. The Mudflower Collective, God's Fierce Whimsy: Christian Feminism and
Theological Education (New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1985), pp. 25-6.
19. Carter Heyward, "An Unfinished Symphony of Liberation: The Radicalization
of Christian Feminist Spirituality for Justice," Journal of Associates for
Religion and Intellectual Life (Winter: 3(2), 1986), p. 58.
20. Kindom is a new way of reflecting what has long been reierred to as the
Kingdom of God. It suggests an all encompassing understanding of the
interconnection of all beings in creation as we move toward a new social
vision. As Isasi Diaz and Tarango put it, "The word "kindom" makes it clearer
that when the fullness of God becomes a day-to-day reality in the world at
large, we will all be sisters and brothers — kin to each other.
Ada Maria Isasi Diaz and Yolanda Tarango, Hispanic Women . Footnote 8 on p.
Strategies -for Moving Toward Feminist Liberation
m the Presbyterian Church
Working on this thesis, I have -formulated some strategies I believe will
facilitate white, middle-strata Presbyterian clergywomen in our movement
toward Feminist Liberation. To assume that it will happen without specific
strategies would be naive. Such change requires some awareness of the issues
of Liberal Feminism and Feminist Liberation. It also requires the support and
input of a community committed to liberation and justice, and a willingness to
take the risks involved in personal and social transformation.
Each of the strategies below addresses some of the elements of Feminist
Liberation that I have discussed in this thesis. This is not an exhaustive
list of strategies. I will describe each strategy and indicate how I believe
it would aid Presbyterian clergywomen in our journey toward Feminist
Liberation. I will state how, in many cases, the building of coalitions would
be necessary. I will not attempt to solve the budgetary issues. These would
have to be worked out by the clergywomen committed to such strategies. (See
Appendix L for the "mind map" of my development of these strategies.)
Clergywomen' s History Project ; During my work at Episcopal Divinity
School, especially with Katie Cannon, I have become mindful of the importance
of the "ancient wisdom" available to us, but which we often fail to recognize.
To turn our back on our people and history is death rendering. *4e cannot live
isolated from our community and from its myth. White, «iddle-strata women are
particularly vulnerable to this danger because we do not always have a strong
sense of our community, much less its "ancient wisdom".
As we approach the 35th anniversary of the ordination of women as
ministers of the Word and Sacraments in the Presbyterian Church, we have an
opportunity to recognize and honor our past. It is important -for the history
of the -first Presbyterian clergywomen to be recorded. Each o-f these women has
a story which can impact the -future o-f other clergywomen and o-f the
Presbyterian Church. Too often our foremothers and foresisters are
appreciated only after it is too late to hear their stories from their own
lips. For this reason I am suggesting that we clergywomen initiate a project
involving an extended video taped interview with each of the first 100 women
who were ordained (combined) in the Presbyterian Church, U.S. and the United
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Since the first 100 clergywomen are all white,
it is important also to interview the first ten women to be ordained from each
racial group. The clergywomen from each racial group would be interviewed by
one of the clergywoman from that racial group.
The stories of the first clergywomen in our denomination would reflect
much excitement and joy and also much grief, rejection, and oppression. Many
of us assume that we know those stories, but without the specifics recorded by
the women themselves and without some analysis of these stories, the value of
these women's years of service, commitment and struggle will be lost. The
analysis of the interviews would be done by the interviewers with a view
toward what could be of most value to the denomination and to future
The interviews eight include such issues as what led the women to become
ministers, i.he relationship of their personal and vocational commitments, the
political dynamics in the local church and at other levels of the
denomination, spiritual and theological development, various types of ministry
pursued, -feelings about having been in ministry, and any problems encountered
in ministry, such as lack of acceptance, difficulty finding positions,
compromises made, conflict between personal life choices and ministry, etc.
Not only would such & project help clergywomen to learn from the wisdom
of those who have gone before but these interviews would also invite an
analysis of the problems that many have faced. On the basis of this study,,
clergywomen could challenge the denomination to change its ways in relation to
clergywomen. Such a study would also change our understanding of ourselves
and would have an impact on our strategies. To make this project a reality,
we would need to work with the Women Employed by the Church Committee (WEBC)
and the Committee of Women of Color (CWC) of the Women's Ministry Unit of the
This particular strategy would involve especially the following elements
of Feminist Liberation:
1) Community: We would be working together to gather and analyze this
material, especially the Women Employed by the Church Committee, the Committee
of Women of Color, and the women hired to do the interviewing.
2) Particularity: To interview only the first 100 clergywomen in the
F'resbyterian Church would not be satisfactory since we are all white. It is
essential that the first clergywomen from each racial ethnic group be
represented as well. Their experiences of being the first within their group
are probably quite different from those of the white clergywomen. The
strategies that -feminist clergywomen (of all races) might develop would be
quite different if we take the racial ethnic clergywomen" s experiences as
seriously as we have taken the experience of white clergywomen in the past.
It is also not enough to take the first racial ethnic clergywomen "across the
board." The experiences of the first Black clergywomen will not be the same
as that of the first Asian, Hispanic, or Native American clergywomen.
3) Transformation: Knowing our history is basic to working toward a
trans-Formed present and -future within the Presbyterian Church. This strategy
«akes clear the importance o-f transmitting to -future generations the history
we are now making and have made during the last 35 years.
Con-ferences on Privilege ; Because the concept o-f "privilege" is so hard
•for white, Kiddle-strata Presbyterian clergywomen to comprehend and to act
upon, it is crucial that some time, effort, and money be spent on holding some
conferences which will focus on "privilege". Since it is, in fact, the
privilege of persons in dominant groups in society to deny that privilege
exists, some significant consciousness-raising is required to overcome the
barriers that protect white, middle-strata clergywomen from the awareness of
our race and class privilege.
I would suggest a steering committee composed of a variety of
clergywomen appointed by the Women Employed by the Church Committee of the
Women's Ministry Unit. It would plan a large national conference of
clergywomen focused on the issue of privilege in which the reality of
privilege would be addressed by clergywomen, who for different reasons, have
little or no privilege in the Presbyterian Church today; e.g., women of color,
lesbians, single women, older women, unemployed women. A lot of time would be
spent in small groups in which resistances and barriers to recognizing one's
own privilege could be addressed. There would be opportunities for informal
conversations and other consciousness-raising experiences. An important group
to include in the planning of this conference would be the National
Association of Presbyterian Clergywomen <NAPC) and the Committee of Women of
This initial conference, designed primarily to raise issues, could be
•followed by five years o-f regional conferences in which specific privileges
would be explored:
Year 1 Racial Privilege — These conferences would bring together racial
ethnic clergywomen, Third World clergywomen (actually doing ministry in other
parts of the world), and white, middle-strata clergywomen. We would meet in
snail mixed groups to struggle with the racial privilege and non-privilege
which divide us. There might be a couple of keynote speakers to lay out
issues. Host of the time, however, would be spent in small groups. We would
be attempting to transcend barriers between us as we worked together on
strategies to address the issues of race privilege in the Presbyterian "Church
and in society. We will elicit help and support from the Committee of Women
of Color of the Women's Ministry Unit (National level of the Presbyterian
Church) and the various national Racial Ethnic Caucuses and the Global
Ministry Unit (It does all of the work relating to other parts of the world.),
Year 2 Age and Able-Bodied Privilege — These conferences would bring
together clergywomen of different ages who are both able-bodied and
differently abled to discuss issues of age and disability that impede our
liberation. The format of these conferences would be similar to that of the
conferences on race privilege, but the focus would be different. To
facilitate our work in this area, «e would consult with Presbyterians for
Disabilities Concerns, Presbyterian Gray Panthers, and Presbyterian Health,
education and Welfare Association.
Year 3 Heterosexual Privilege — These conferences would bring together
lesbian and heterosexual clergywomen to discuss ways in which sexual
preference privilege impedes our liberation. These conferences would be very
difficult because there are so -few lesbian clergywomen who are "out" within
the church because the Presbyterian Church has declared that homosexuality is
sinful and no one who is open may be ordained as a clergyperson or as an elder
or deacon (the latter two offices are filled by lay persons in the PCUSA).(5ee
Appendix M for the legislation.) This puts tremendous stress on lesbian
clergywomen because even if there are no witch hunts, there are informal
networks that may insure no employment for known lesbian clergy. These
conferences might have to be smaller, and the lesbians might have to be moved
into geographical areas where they are not serving. It is a very complex
issue, and one way in which some of the problems would be resolved is to have
these conferences envisioned and planned entirely by Presbyterian Lesbian
Clergywomen (PLCW) with the support of Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay
Year 4 Class Privilege — These conferences would bring together
clergywomen from different class backgrounds. Since the issue of class shapes
us when we are children and continues to separate us throughout our lives, it
is important to focus on our early class identities. There might also be soae
opportunity for discussion about how these issues continue to confuse us when
some of us are victims of underemployment and unemployment while others move
more smoothly along the career ladder. There are no groups in the
Presbyterian Church working on the issues of class to whom we could look for
support and input as we plan these conferences although the Presbyterian
Health, Education and Welfare Association might be of some help.
Year 5 Clergy Privilege — These conferences would explore the
relationship of clergywomen and lay women as one of privilege and non-
privilege. This would be a great culmination to the -five-year cycle, because
I would envision that this same cycle o-f conferences would be sponsored -for
lay women through Presbyterian Women, an organization o-f women's associations
across the denomination. If this were to happen, it would be a significant
step in the movement toward Feminist Liberation within the Presbyterian
Church. It would mean that both lay women and clergywomen would be dealing
with the issues of privilege in parallel conferences over a four-year period
and then end by dealing with power dynamics between clergy and lay. These are
rarely dealt with in any church setting. Included in this conference would be
not only Presbyterian Women but also lay employees of the Presbyterian Church
at all levels, e.g., secretaries, educators, musicians.
Thinking about this cycle of conferences, I wonder whether a closing
national conference might be an appropriate way to culminate this endeavor to
understand our privilege better and to begin to reduce the power differentials
among women within the Presbyterian Church. If we were to come out of these
conferences with commitments and tools to accomplish this task, then we,
indeed, would have something important to share with our sisters in other
denominations and with those feminists outside the church. (Certainly while
planning such a cycle of conferences, we would also want to check with
clergywomen in other denominations who might have already planned conferences
on privilege in order to gain from their experience.)
The elements of Feminist Liberation addressed in this strategy would be:
1) Marginality: In «*ch conference those with little or no privilege
would be the ones who would do the naming. They would be central to the
process of identifying the reality of privilege which results in oppression
and of recommending the process of liberation on which all clergywomen need to
be working. Those on the margin would move to the center of these liberative
2) Interdependence: It would become obvious as we move through these
conferences that we are interdependent in both positive and negative ways.
The well being o-f each person is tied to that of the rest of us.
3) Transformation: Through the process of becoming mindful of the
reality of privilege and of how such power dynamics can be diminished, all of
us will be better equipped to contribute to transformation in our own lives,
in the lives of our communities and in the society as a whole.
4) Particularity: In becoming aware of the differentials in privilege,
we clergywomen would become cognizant of the particularities which play a
significant role in our lives. To deal with the issue of privilege, we must
be able to name our own particularities and recognise those of others.
5) Revolutionary Change: These conferences would make way for women to
become radicalized and to move, through a power analysis, to counteract the
oppressive relationships which predominate in the church and in the society
Travel Seminars : Since I consider travel crucial to the whole process
of Feminist Liberation, it is logical that I would suggest that we find ways
to help clergywomen travel outside this country. (1) The best plan, in my
estimation, would be for small groups of no more than ten Presbyterian
clergywomen to travel together in various parts of the Third World. There
might be some occasions when clergywomen from other denominations would be
invited to participate in these trips. Each group would have to have at least
one-third racial ethnic clergywomen and under »ost circumstances the groups
would be led administratively by racial ethnic clergywomen. (2) The actual
period in the Third World countries would be under the leadership of
clergywomen/theologians from those countries, and the time would be divided
between travel and classes. Each group would do preparatory reading, attend
an orientation session be-Fore departure, and participate in a de-briefing a
month after returning to the U.S. There would be an expectation that upon
their return, these clergywomen would share their learnings with others in
this country, especially other clergywomen.
Some of the things that I hope would be accomplished through such travel
would include jarring of consciousness, increasing understanding of global
political and economic issues, and learning about the theological and ethical
issues emerging among the women of the area.
The elements of Feminist Liberation which would be addressed through
this strategy would include:
1) Global Awareness: The clergywomen would learn how small this world is
and how great is the impact of the foreign relations of the United States.
Awareness of being part of the global family would no longer be an
abstraction, but rather an experienced reality.
2) Marginality: Through having racial ethnic women from here and abroad,
as leaders for the seminars, the experience of those who are marginal, by the
world's standards, would become central within the group.
3) Interdependence: It would become very clear in traveling how much we
human beings are connected across national and cultural barriers. This would
be felt, on the emotional level, in that the white women would be putting our
well being in the hands of those with whom traditionally we would not have
been closely related.
Seminary Quarter for Women : There was the Seminary Quarter at
Grailville (SOAG) from 1974 to 1978 in which 84 women seminarians of various
denominations participated. SOAG was a brilliant program that embodied many
•feminist ideals and was significant in the future lives and ministries o-f many
women. It allowed seminary women to spend a summer together and get credit
through United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. As described in Your
Daughters Shall Prophesy , SOAG was a model program with the -following
— women theologians as role models
— the building of a living/learning community in which everyone shares
in the decision-making by which the group constitutes itself
— a self-directed learning model in which individuals and groups focus
their own questions and methods of study
— a wholistic and experimental approach to learning, uniting intellect
and emotion, using all modes of perception and expression
— a focus on feminist perspectives, both in critiquing traditional
studies and in breaking new ground by theological reflection on
women's experience. (3)
The major problems facing this program were that it had to meet the challenge
that the program remained a predominantly white, middle-strata women's
experience, to deal with the tension between self-directed study and covering
specific content required by denominations, and to struggle to get financial
Whether as Presbyterians alone, or as an ecumenical endeavor, we need to
develop a program modeled after the best of SOAG. One of the primary
endeavors of such a program should be to involve racial ethnic women
seminarians and clergywomen/seminary professors in the organizing, planning,
and implementing of the program from the beginning. I would think that each
year the program might be in a different location of the country, in different
types of settings, *o that flif+erent ^women could and *ould take advantage of
This type of program would provide women seminarians with exposure to
Feminist Liberation early in their careers. The leadership team would be made
up of & mix o-f women of color and white women, seminary professors and parish
ministers, U.S. citizens and citizens of Third World countries, lesbians and
heterosexuals, etc. It is important that women who have been teaching and/or
in ministry for a period of time have the opportunity to share from their
experience with seminarians while also learning from the "new generation" of
seminarians. This program would be a "laboratory" in which new paradigms and
strategies of Feminist Liberation could be developed and tested. The students
and the leaders would be strengthened in their understanding of, commitment
to, and embodiment of Feminist Liberation.
The elements of Feminist Liberation which would be addressed in this
program are as follow:
1) Community: The teaching and learning would be accomplished by both
students and resource persons in such a way as to develop a community of
learning. The communal nature of Feminist Liberation will be experienced
directly rather than merely discussed. The hope is that this would inform the
women as to how theological and ethical perspectives are developed within
community rather than by isolated individuals.
2) Transformation: This program would provide an alternative worldview,
especially in contrast to most theological education within the Presbyterian
Church. It is through embracing such a worldview that one gains the tools to
bring about transformation in the church and the wider society. The need for
justice as a norm for one's theology and ethics would become profoundly clear.
3. Interdependence: Living in a community of learning -for a summer would
provide a powerful opportunity *for the women to learn how what happens to one
person impacts everyone.
Lesbian Clergy Political Caucus : There has been a little organizing done
among lesbian clergywomen in the Presbyterian Church. There needs to be a
concerted effort made to gather lesbian clergywomen together and to strategize
about what we can do within the Presbyterian Church. Lesbian clergywomen, on
the whole, are a very politically keen group. Our group includes some of the
brightest and best of the Presbyterian clergywomen, but our voices have been
silenced by the oppression o-f heterosexism. Such a group would give us voice.
Lesbianism has given me and other lesbian clergywomen a special lens
through which to look at the Presbyterian Church and the political dynamics we
•find there. (5) Each way in which we have little or no privilege gives us one
■ore lens through which we can see more clearly the power dynamics in our
church and society. Because o-f the virulent nature o-f the oppression against
lesbians and gay men within the Presbyterian Church, the lens o-f lesbianism
can provide a stunning clarity. The vulnerability of being lesbian in
heterosexist patriarchy also means that lesbians have less privilege to lose.
For this reason, we may be more willing, at times, to take risks involved in
embracing Feminist Liberation.
Because of our choices, we lesbians challenge the heterosexist
assumptions of this society. We are threatening to many; therefore we
experience homophobic responses. As a result, most lesbian clergywomen have
been forced to "pass" as heterosexuals, except with our «ost trusted friends
and colleagues. Only one clergywoman is "fully "out" in the Presbyterian
Church! Liberal Feminism supports our passing by teaching that what we "do in
bed" should not «ake any difference. Liberal Feminism calls us to «end the
crack in the pot by covering up the contradiction that, although it should not
■ake any difference what we "do in bed"; we, in -fact, will be punished if it
is revealed. We reinforce this liberal "cover up" in our failure to see and
acknowledge the contradiction. For example, when asked about lesbian
clergywomen who "come out" and their -future role within the Presbyterian
Church, one of the clergywomen in my study responded:
If lesbianism or heterosexism becomes the key focus in feminist
liberation, the battle is lost. .. .Given the setting of the Church, if a
number of lesbian clergywomen come out in the PCUSA and then take up the
fight of feminist liberation, the focus will be shifted from the main
issue to that of homosexuality. The battle lines will be drawn, and
feminist liberation becomes synonymous with lesbianism. As a result,
there probably would be a loss of support from feminist clergywomen.
Living as a lesbian clergywoman for the last 15 years has instilled in
me a growing hermeneutic of suspicion which can be contained no longer.
Liberal Feminism generates denial and confusion within me and leaves me with
contradictions which provide me with none of the spiritual sustenance I need.
Feminist Liberation offers me passionate living, joy, and vision.
When lesbian clergywomen make a choice for passionate living, we can see
more clearly what is going on politically because we are pushing out through
the cracks in the liberal pot. We car, begin to recognize and question the
assumptions that have heretofore contained us. Bringing lesbian clergywomen
together to study the liberalism that has contained most of us might empower
us to act politically with more effectiveness. We might see more clearly the
broad range of issues which are connected in our lives and thus .understand
better how Feminist Liberation benefits everyone, not only lesbians. - -
It also is important that lesbian clergywomen provide * "home" "for each
other. I recently have come to a renewed awareness that most of us search for
"home" most of our lives. We can never go home in the sense of going back to
what is often an idealized •emory of the past, a home which probably never
existed. I want to affirm the notion that our life journey is home. <6> This
is particularly important for lesbian clergywomen who have often been cut off
-from home in various ways. Our communal participation in La Luc ha — the
struggle which is life itself — becomes home. Home is where we are now,
especially when we are free to love and accept ourselves as we are.
The elements of Feminist Liberation addressed in this effort are as
1) Revolutionary Change: The empowering of lesbian clergywomen in the
Presbyterian Church would, in and of itself, be revolutionary. The changes
resulting from the political work done by lesbians would be multitudinous and
profound in nature. Certainly it would be a significant step toward turning
upside down the culture of domination.
2) Embodiment: Lesbianism is a way of embodying the whole reality of
Feminist Liberation. Therefore the empowering of a group of lesbian feminist
clergywomen must deal with embodiment. Our valuing of an embodied theology
and ethics in passionate living is a way of manifesting embodiment.
3) Marginality: Lesbian clergywomen are marginal in the Presbyterian
Church. This program to organize lesbians brings us to the center in the
struggle to bring liberation and justice to the church as well as to the
4) Particularity: Within such a caucus, lesbian clergywomen would be
able to affirm our own particularity and to gain the strength to "come out".
In "coming -out", there would be wore possibilities of sharing our
particularities with others.
Intensive One-honth Study Leave Program : Since each clergywoman normally
receives two weeks of paid study leave each year which can be accumulated up
to eight weeks, it is reasonable to imagine the possibility of clergywomen
attending a month-long program. Such a program would be focused on Feminist
Liberation. Each month-long experience would highlight one element of
Feminist Liberation, such as embodiment, revolutionary change, particularity,
interdependence. There would be intensive courses involving self-learning
through a variety of methods (e.g., formal presentations from resource
persons, small group activities, body movement, artistic expression,
liturgical experiences.) When possible, the leadership teams of these
programs would include white and racial ethnic clergywomen and seminary
This program would be accredited through a seminary so that the women
could receive seminary credit to be applied later to post-graduate work.
These study leaves could very well constitute feeder programs into the
Feminist Liberation D. Min. degree programs in seminaries, such as Episcopal
Divinity School and San Francisco Theological Seminary. (7) Three of these
month-long study programs would be offered annually at different times of the
year in different parts of the country with different areas of focus. Every
effort would be made to obtain scholarship funds to enable clergywomen who are
underemployed or unemployed to participate in this program.
Each of the elements of Feminist Liberation would be covered in a three-
year cycle of study leave programs.
Presbytery and Synod Clusters : To provide a denomination-wide network
of support *nd communication for those committed to Feminist Liberation, it is
imperative that clusters of clergywomen be gathered within presbyteries, among
presbyteries or even Synodwide. <8> These clusters Mould be crucial in the
sense that they would provide a place in which clergywomen could raise,
explore, struggle with, and live with issues which Feminist Liberation poses.
In addition, these clusters would be a place in which learnings from the
programs mentioned in this chapter could be shared with other clergywomen,
especially those newly ordained.
This grassroots organising plan would be particularly appropriate
because it could be linked to the organizational structure of Presbyterian
Women, the group of lay women organized at all levels of the Presbyterian
Church. If this program of Feminist Liberation clusters can be supported by
staff women around the country, attached to the Women's Ministry Unit, it can
be more easily facilitated than if it were linked to the presbyteries where
there might be some resistance and little or no staffing provided. This model
would also allow for closer and more trusting relationships between
clergywomen and lay women to develop because the same staff persons would be
working with both groups.
The elements of Feminist Liberation which this program would address are
1) Community: This cluster program would be the living out of the
importance of the social web for our strategizing, organizing, healing and
transforming. It would be evidence that we can not bring about change or live
our lives in isolation -from each other. We need to reach out not only to
those most like us but also to others who are quite different yet who may have
some of the same concerns and commitments.
2) Interdependence: Especially in building coalitions between
clergyworoen and lay women, our interdependence would be experienced.
3) Revolutionary change: If such ^coalitions between clergywomen and lay
women do develop, the Presbyterian Church's transformation will be well
Conclusion: A Call to the Passionate Revolution : There are those who
•ay ask, "Why bother with all of these strategies when they may never get
implemented?" We do not have the luxury of deciding whether or not we will
plan for ways in which we can embody the vision of Feminist Liberation in our
world. We must! On a recent panel about Feminist Liberation, Joanna Kadi, a
student at Episcopal Divinity School, said, "We are out to make
revolutions. . .Political activism must go with Feminist Liberation Theology.
We must get to the streets and respond to the wants and needs of the common
people." Carter also points us in this direction when she writes, "And 'I
love you 7 means, let the revolution begin! "(9)
We are already involved in a revolution! When we began to ask questions
about the very nature of God, it was a new kind of revolution, as Anne Hebrew
Bennett's writings reflect:
Granted that ideas about God have changed in revolutionary ways since
Sarah and Abraham set out for an unknown land; yet there is something
new, wholly new, a woman's challenge to the Judeo-Chr istian tradition,
Scriptures, and structures. Women are taking seriously the commonplace
that a culture's idea of divinity is central not only to that culture's
religious life but also to its social/political/f amilial institutions
and relationships. Women are looking at the male God who has dominated
the Judeo-Christian world and who is a fundamental part of our culture,
and women are seeing in that male God the instrument of our
invisibility, our oppression, our pain. (10)
And I might add that that male God is also the instrument of the invisibility,
oppression, and pain of many other marginalized persons around the world. We
have already opened up Pandora's Box, (11) and we cannot close it again. We
can try to ignore the chaos. We can bury our beads in the sand out of fear.
We can hide our eyes from the pain surrounding us and in us; but when we peek,
we will find the potential revolution still there. We have been taught in our
culture that revolution is a negative and dangerous reality, but do we have to
accept that narrow conceptualization? In aost ways our world is a mess. Why
can't we see the revolution — the turning upside down — of such a world as
glorious and redemptive? Why can't we discover as did Pandora, when she
opened up the box, that hope is -found in the midst of the mess?
I think that we often shrink from the vision of revolution, because we
think of it as synonymous with violence, and sometimes it is. But my sisters,
we are already involved in violence. We do not need to pick up a gun to shoot
someone to be involved in violence. Living our lives as usual, we contribute
to violence. We cannot be involved passively in liberation. Our passivity
only contributes to the status quo — and it is a violent status quo. You and I
can fail to see this reality because much of the oppression in our world is
hidden from us. If each day we are not finding significant ways to counter
the violence in ourselves, our homes, our communities, our country and around
the world, we are helping to escalate the violence. People are dying daily of
starvation, torture, domestic abuse, drugs, and neglect in our own communities
and elsewhere in the world. And there are those who wish they were dead
because they are lonely, forgotten, sick, alienated, and addicted. They too
are in our own homes and everywhere else in the world.
In contrast to this reality, why is revolution such a frightening
vision? Could it be that the powers that be have planned it that way? How do
we learn to perceive clearly what is at stake in our refusals to see?
Feminist Liberation challenges us to see, to think, to act in revolutionary
ways to help bring in the day of peace, love, justice and liberation in our
world. Yes, there are risks, but they are not as great as the ones we face in
this very moment. We can not allow our ■emories of the violence, done in our
name each day and many times with our tacit consent, to fade. It is re-
membering our world through deeds of justice, through commitments to
liberation, through acts o-f love-making that the revolution comes. Indeed,
let the revolution begin!
1. As I mentioned in Chapter IV, I am well aware that there is a class issue
involved in recommending travel seminars as a means -for moving into Feminist
Liberation. Rather than dismiss this means for raising consciousness, I would
rather insure means by which clergywomen, with little or no -financial capacity
could participate in such seminars.
2. To guarantee that this would not just be another "rip off" of racial ethnic
women to the benefit of white women,, the administrators of the program would
be given a small stipend in addition to their travel expenses being covered.
3. The Cornwall Collective, Your Daughters Shall Prophesy; Feminist
Alternatives in Theological Education (New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1980), pp.
4. Ibid., p. 140.
5. One of my colleagues at EDS, Judith Carpenter, also suggested the many-
facets of a stone as another way of imaging the increased clarity one gains
from the vantage point of various experiences of no-privilege.
6. I am indebted to Nelle Morton who has developed the notion of the life
journey as home building on Ruth Duck's words, "we are still God's people, the
journey is our home," found in her feminist hymn, "Lead on, Cloud of
Nelle Morton, The Journey Is Home (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985), p. xvii.
7. SFTS has had a D.Min. focused on feminist issues, but it is presently
8. There are 183 presbyteries and 16 synods across the country and Puerto
Rico. Each presbytery includes representatives (clergy and lay) from the
local churches in a given geographical area. Synods are composed of the
presbyteries generally within one or more state(s).
9. Carter Heyward, The Redemption of God: A Theology of Mutual Relation
(Washington: University Press of America, 1982), p. 162.
10. Anne McGrew Bennett <ed. by Mary E. Hunt), From Woman-Pain to Vtoman-
Vision: Writings in Feminist Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), p.
11. I had used Fibber McGee's closet at this point until Ann DuBois suggested
Pandora's Box, which is a «uch better fit -for this thesis.
Memories o-f Annette Wall on Pre-CEW days in Philadelphia
When I began attending the luncheon meetings at the Witherspoon
Building, the topics under discussion were more likely to cover recipes, diets
and child rearing practices than employee concerns, grievances, problems,
etc. .. Probably the result o-f my wheelings and dealings with various peace
organizations (she was secretary with the Emergency Ministry on Conscience and
War), it occurred to me that the Women's Committee might be the medium -for
some of the solutions to what I saw as injustices visited on the non-
executives by everyone who had more power which was just about everybody in
the place, including the stray dog who used to sneak into our lobby -from time
to time. .. although it was clear that the Women" s Committee was not even close
to a feminist perspective, we were able to obtain enough of a majority to
represent a constituency to legitimize an approach to the Professional Women's
Caucus... the Professional Women's Caucus had opened its arms to take in the
ragtag stragglers of non-professional, non-e;;ecs.
Yet back at the Witherspoon Building the Ladies Club attitude still
prevailed at the meetings. When the committee's president began to understand
the implications of Knsheim (a Presbyterian Conference Center in Philadelphia
where the Professional Women's Caucus had met), she felt the committee's
future might be too time consuming &nd she resigned. I was elected and began
efforts to turn member interest away from recipes for a low-fat Chicken Soup
and toward a more pragmatic wider political view.
I was meeting with little success until the "Ins", true to the gospel
according to Aimsky ("Don't worry about creating issues for your
constituency, the Have's will do it for you."), stepped in, and opened Sesame
as wide as we could ever want. I came to work one morning to find management
had distributed throughout the building, in very office, on every desk, in
every nook and cranny, proposed plans for handling the future restructuring.
While the Execs were to receive benefits from here to forever, provisions for
the nons (nonexecs) seemed limited to little beyond a goodbye wave.
Management, in its infinite arrogance, stupidity, and total indifference to
the human factor, had managed to tap into the mother lode of the conscience of
the UPCUSA at the Witherspoon Building. The Women's Committee called an open
luncheon meeting for that day, and, despite the last minute invitation, the
large conference room where it was held overflowed with both non-execs and
embarrassed execs. The Women's Committee had, at last, outgrown its church-
CEW Prospectus and Purpose October, 1972
The National Steering Committee o-f CEW, meeting at Krisheim Study Center
in Philadelphia on September 11, 12, and 13, adopted the -following prospectus
and proposal to obtain an office and funding in the new Vocation Agency o-f the
In January o-f 1971, the Task Force on Women appointed a committee to
convene women ministers, Christian educators and other women professionally
employed by the church.
A study o-f women ministers revealed that although the church had agreed
to ordain women, it had not concerned itself with their employment after
ordination nor had it provided access to the same opportunities in ministry
enjoyed by men.
Women have never served a church larger than a 250 membership as the
sole or senior pastor. Currently, only 16 clergywomen serve as sole or senior
pastor; 23 are undesignated (clergy not working in parishes or staff
positions). Only four committees of the national church have women ministers
serving on them, only one on a major agency.
It has also become clear that women brought up in this culture which
socializes boys and girls quite differently have re-forming contributions to
make to theology, pastoral counseling, social action, teaching and
administration. The gifts they bring are neither unavailable nor alien to
men, only unencouraged. Seminaries have been male-oriented and have given
scant attention to the historic and contemporary contributions or styles of
Attempts to reach those Christian educators who are women disclosed that
the church has no complete register of those who carry out its educational
ministry. The only complete up-to-date listing of church professionals is one
for ministers. What corporate responsibility does the church have for these
others, most of them women?
Further, in a church which has denied both the existence of these
problems and the significance of the statistical and experiential facts
gathered, women need a support community in which their perception can be
validated and through which they can affirm all women throughout the churches
and the secular world.
A year later the Task Force aembers began to raise many questions
regarding the women employed by the church in secretarial and clerical jobs
(those traditionally known as non-professional). A survey was conducted using
a questionnaire developed with the women themselves. The results showed that
women do indeed want »ore voice in decisions that affect them and that
personnel policies need to be reviewed and revised.
It was also discovered through studies of the handbooks for executives
and staff in the Boards and Agencies that wide discrepancies exist between the
attitudes of the church toward each group. The church assumes the executive
is mature, responsible and trustworthy — in contrast to its prevailing attitude
that the other staff is none of these and «ust, therefore, be closely
regulated. Yet surveys show that many of these women whom the church, by its
treatment, has characterized as irresponsible have served the church for many
years and in many offices have "broken in" numerous executives.
There are also wide discrepancies between secretarial and executive
salaries and fringe benefits, such as vacation time, continuing education
opportunities, study leave, etc. Perhaps the church cannot deal immediately
with salaries; it can remedy the wide gap in its provision of benefits.
The church has unquestioningly and almost vigorously adopted the class
system of society. Should we be proud that we borrow our pay scale from the
secular world? Should we be proud that we borrow the assumptions about women
from the same source? Every profession defines man as that which leads, woman
as that which is led. Women are assigned a role secondary to men, and it is
this assignment which legitimizes women's lower pay, lessened status and the
lack of authority. Women have begun to ask why women's lower pay, lessened
status and lack of authority. Women have begun to ask why.
In January, 1972, the professional and non-professional women's groups
merged to form the Church Employed Women's organization (CEW) . To continue in
two separate groups would have perpetuated the divisions imposed on us by
society. The group has many separate agendas but a common concern for women
and the health of the church.
During the entire period of restructuring, CEW, through staff and the
Task Force, tried to introduce their concerns to the Commission on
Restructuring and its various sub-committees. Sometimes they were heard. At
other times they were not. As the 184th General Assembly (1972) met, we were
told that CEW would have a place and a staff in the Vocation Agency.
Tnrough this General Assembly, the church recognized the existence of
CEW and referred its 1972 h-j.dqet to the General Council which, in turn,
referred it to the GAMC where it is to be heard in October. Meanwhile, the
structural questions were re+erred to the Commission on Restructuring which
received them without comment. A verbal "gentleman's agreement" was made:
Just as the Task Force was to have a Consulting Committee in the Program
Agency, CEW would have a Consulting Committee in the Vocation Agency. Since
then we have found no written evidence nor has the agreement been passed on to
the Vocation Agency in any form. We therefore submit these papers in good
faith that the past year's negotiation had meaning and that the verbal
agreements will be honored.
We therefore submit to the Vocation Agency the following budget for the
establishment of an Office for Employed Women in the Vocation Agency with a
Consulting Committee to advise the Vocation Agency in all matters relating to
the concerns of employed women. There are no specific programs offered by the
church now for these women in the established structures and no programs for
the church-at-large in matters relating to sexism.
The church has spoken boldly of its concern which grows out of its
commitment to Christ for all these who are oppressed or discriminated against.
It has spoken boldly of freedom in Christ, of the loving community, of
equality and justice and of self-determination.
But the eyes of the church have a history of astigmatism, focusing on
foreign missions, on distant injustices. The church began its concern for
others by sending missionaries to other lands. It then moved its mission to
the dispossessed in this country. Only recently has it begun to look within.
An equal employment statement and committee is only a beginning. Racism
and sexism run deeper than -fair representation and statistical quotas. They
command our intellect and determine our life styles. toe must be fearless
enough in our -faith to root out these sexist/racist practices and
compassionate enough to care about all those affected by such practice. The
world is awake to our struggle. If we ourselves harbor injustice within, how
then can we bear witness to that which is loose without?
The Task Force works on the issues in general. It is therefore fitting
that it asked CEW to turn its attention to employed women in particular. The
Task Force members' 1 belief in self-determination mandated that they entrust
these issues to the women involved. Thus, CEW now addresses these concerns to
Other institutions in our society are being forced to respond to these
issues by law and pending litigation may soon impose a like enforcement in the
church. The church has a. need to hear from these women whose problems are
being so closely scrutinized by the church. It has a need to work with them
for its reform. The health of the church and the credibility of its faith
depend on our casting out this beam in our own eye.
The books are clear in relation to the church's intent regarding women.
We hope that what legal measures have imposed on the secular world. Christian
Borality will impose or. the religious.
CHURCH EMPLOYED WOMEN
Serving Employed Women and the Church
We believe that by grace we are free to be co-creators with God and all
people. If we are co-creators with God, we can be nothing less in relation to
any man. We believe that all persons are equal and that in the life of the
church should be so seen and treated. We witness to the church and the world
as advocates for all women seeking justice for employed women within church
structures and joining those working for justice in other structures.
The church in the past has been both an instrument of women's liberation
as well as subordination. Will the church continue to perpetuate
subordination by its unchallenged traditions and "benign neglect"? Or, will
the church choose to join those forces of the Holy Spirit which throughout
Salvation History have struggled to liberate women?
The constituency of Church Employed Women in the UF'CUSA includes:
ordained ministers, educators (DCEs, seminary and college personnel;,
secretaries, lay employees (para-professionals), musicians, agency and
judicatory staff, seminarians, retired employees, mission personnel, and
others employed by the church.
The purposes of Church Employed Women are:
1. Developing among employed women a community for psychological
and economic support.
2. Opening of doors for the contributions and influence of church
employed women so that the church no longer need be deprived
of the gifts of these women.
3. Acting as advocates for all women.
4. Humanizing our various work systems.
5. Taking our place beside and working with employed women of
Because equal employment opportunity is a primary concern in the
restructuring of the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. and acted upon by the
Because the need -for expanded job opportunities, more equitable
advancement and improved personnel policies has been documented and
demonstrated by the Task Force on Women and by Church Employed Women
themselves and acted upon by the General Assembly;
And because o-f the e-f-forts of employed women scattered throughout the
church who need a -focal center and a way to relate to the ongoing work of the
institution in order to be effective;
Church Employed Women has sought an office and funding in the New
(CEW never was in the Vocation Agency structure as COWAC was in the Program
Agency structure. I believe to pacify us, the GMAC gave us $5,000 from the
Salvage Fund at the end of 1972. This money was used to print a brochure to
recruit members, to survey constituency groups, and to hold regional
Church Employed nomen
AN ORGANIZATION RELATED TO
THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Linda B. Brebner
475 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10027
P. 0. Box 96
Rolla, MO 65401
Church Employed Women, an organization whose
membership reached 350 in 1974, has experience
and expertise in the structures of the United
Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. which we are happy
to offer for reflection, contact, and exchange
to women of other churches and other nations.
In 1971-72, when we were known as the Profes-
sional Women's Caucus, we
—met as a few women clergy, Christian educa-
tors, and laity at General Assembly (6. A.)
thanks to the Task Force on Women of the
—constituted a working steering committee
of employed and employable women;
—sent delegates to Ministerial Placement
workshops, offices, and committees to raise
questions and make proposals for servicing
—proposed to the 6. A. Task Force on Women
that the W.C.C. be overtured by our denomi-
nation to convene a conference on sexism
in churches and in society;
—built support, job, and newsletter networks
in regions and at General Assembly;
—initiated compensation legislation reform
and advocated with the G.A. Task Force on
Women the proposals for United Presbyterian
In 1972-73, we joined with a group of clerical
employees from national denominational offices
to become known as Church Employed Women (CEW).
From that time, we
—organized five regional mettings of employed
women in clergy, Christian education, secre-
tarial, overseas positions to identify prob-
lems and elect representatives to a national
—asked the Eastern Regional Newsletter editor
to publish a national newsletter;
•surveyed local church secretaries to find
that out of 2,488 who returned questionnaires
37% were over SO years old
85% were not on any private pension plan
35% were not having any church funds paid
into the government social security
system for them (in many cases this
was propably illegal on the part of
11% only indicated that the church
provided access to medical plan
25% received no paid vacation
50% of the full-time (40 hours a week)
and nearly all of the part-time
(though some work 30-35 hours) re-
less than $5,000 a year (welfare
family level in the U.S.A.)
— surveyed women in Christian education to
find that out of 193 returns:
— the median salary per year was about
$7500 as compared with their senior pas-
tor colleagues at $15,500 and associate
pastor colleagues at $11,500
—that housing and fringe benefits are con-
siderably less for educators than for
pastors and in many cases educators re-
ceive no housing or other fringe benefits
— wrote Overtures C and D, which were passed by
the G.A., requiring nominating (calling) com-
mittees seeking pastors for local churches
and staff for presbyteries to report to the
presbytery asked to approve the call whether
or not the committee has complied with the
Church's equal employment opportunity pro-
gram (considering persons for jobs without
regard to race, ethnic origin, sex, or mari-
tal status). Committees are also instructed
to use the services of official Church groups
representing minorities and women in the
— wrote the legislation on non-ordained Per-
sonnel Committees which passed the G.A. and
requires presbyteries to review the employ-
ment situations and terms for these employees
and to set standards and policies;
— negotiated through a 20-woman sit-in a Con-
sulting Committee on Employed Women to the
Vocation Agency, to which CEW sends 5 of 12
members (others are from the Vocation Agency
Board, Third World Women, and Headquarters
--carried out a clergywomen 's therapeutic
— advocated the placement of clergywomen and
laywomen at presbytery, synod, and national
levels in the denomination's restructuring
process. (One clergywomen and only a few
laywomen — mainly in women's program and Chris-
tian education—had been visible in these
judicatories when the process began.);
—negotiated feminist resource persons and
courses into synod summer schools.
In 1973-74, we
—nominated clergy and lay women to the Per-
manent Nominating Committee of the G.A. for
the second time— we hope for better results!
—carried on with the writing of women's af-
firmative action program guidelines for the
Office of Equal Employment Opportunity of the
G.A. and negotiated consulting service con-
tracts on writing guidelines for Ministerial
Relations committees, compiling an equal op-
portunity and affirmative action bibliography
on women, designing surveys of the employment
(and unemployment ) experiences of female
clergy, licensees, seminarians. There are
plans for other consulting service contracts
as well .
•-did a survey on clergywomen for the Compensa-
tion Committee of the G.A. With 67 returns
(out of 144 clergywomen), we discovered that:
— all in congregational positions were at
the median pastor 's salary for the en-
tire denomination or lower — all the way
down to nothing for doing pastoral work
— less than half listed having housing and
pension benefits (which are usual for
— about half received car or travel allow-
—only a third had continuing education as
— only one-sixth listed vacation (some are
unemployed, some work temporarily as a
waitress, librarian, day-care worker;
some can find only part-time church work;
some have 2 or 2 church jobs)
— none get maternity leave or unemployment
compensation (significant issues for our
— those who work as co-pastors with their
husbands (3 couples) either receive half
salary and half pension for full-time
work or no salary and no pension but
an annual baby-sitting allowance.
— provided CEW resource people to the Council
on Administrative Services (which trains
middle judicatories in hiring processes);
— gained official autonomous status as an or-
ganization related to our denomination and
represented ourselves at the Moderator's
—re-organized ourselves by synods to reflect
the new distribution-of -power structure in
-carried out a model of a church secretaries'
-negotiated with the newly formed national
Council on Women and the Church for $10,000
program grant for two women to carry out a
rural team ministry;
-recommended to the Consulting Committee on
Employed Women the following:
— Successful 1974 Budget Items :
J. Management Associates Program for Women
and Minorities for Presbytery, Synod, and
G.A. levels; budget funds supplemented by
the offices in which Associates are placed
2. Male clergy consciousness-raising sem-
3. A contribution the National Council of
Churches ' Creative Ministry for Women
4. Employed Position of Co-ordinator of
5. Interim ministries program (rotating
unemployed clergywomen around a presby-
tery for leading in worship
6. Regional skills training events for
women employed by the denomination
—We also recommended the upcoming Consulting
Committee consultation with the U.P. Board
of Pensions to review the psychiatric limi-
tation and contracts for diagnosis (under
the medical coverage plan).
—We suggested the elimination of sexist
language and sex preference options in the
Church Information Form used in placement.
—We raised the concern for the review of the
evaluation instruments of ecumenical church
career centers which were known for using
tests based on male/female cultural stereo-
types and producing results charted on sex-
stereotyped job profiles. These centers
were known to be recommended to women who
could not find employment in the denomina-
tion due mainly to discriminatory attitudes
and employment practices. We went on record
publicly as a group which requested women
not to collude with their own referrals in
-- Proposed 1975 New Budget Items
1. Financial aid grants for supporting femin-
ist publishable scholarship in various
fields of theological training — i.e . ,
history of employed women in the UPCUSA,
hermeneutics , Biblical theology, practi-
cal theology (counseling, etc J
2. Teaching Associates program for women in
—we are currently proposing a collective self-
help series of events for women working in na-
May 30, 1974
Material prepared by Joyce L. Manson
CEW Newsletter Editor:
Carol M. Ames
Forest Grove, PA 18922
CEW REPORT, 4/6-7/73 Meeting of the Committee on the Office of Equal
The following are recommendations of CEW which committee members of the Office
of Equal Employment Opportunity agreed to pass on to their respective boards
and agencies for approval.
In Policy Statements and the Support and Vocation Agencies 7 Affirmative Action
The addition of "women," "race," "creed," "minorities, " "sex," "age," and
"marital status" where previously omitted. "Marital status" is to include
The substitution of "women" for "female" where applicable.
The Office of Equal Employment Opportunities and all agencies are to have
update lists of minority and women's caucuses for recruitment sources.
The substitution of the following EEO general objective:
"It is the policy of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of
America to provide equal opportunity in employment and upward mobility for all
qualified persons, to prohibit discrimination in employment because of race,
creed, color, national origin, sex, age, or marital status, and to promote the
full realization of equal employment opportunity through a positive and
continuing program of affirmative action."
The addition of the following to be added to the specific EEO objectives:
"Affirmative action is the execution of a set of specific and result-oriented
procedures designed to eliminate frequent unconscious discriminatory practices
in the employment of women and minority groups."
The recommendation that bona fide occupational qualification be limited to
To be added to methods of external dissemination of the EEO policy regarding
the use of pictures in employment brochures that such pictures include women
and minorities in non-stereotype roles(i.e. women stereotyped as secretaries).
That statistics on employed women be included in samplings for goals and
timetables. Goals and timetables for all agencies are to be set after
availability studies have been done by the Office of Equal Employment
The addition of sources for women candidates.
To the AAF' of the Support Agency: the suggestion that the skills inventory
done by the Vocation Agency for women include non-working experience.
To be added under "Purpose," the establishment of grievance procedures.
Separate goals for women and minorities. Goals more clearly delineated.
Under "Definition," to "plan of action" add, "to insure the employment of
women and minorities at all levels."
In the guidelines, under "Outreach Recruitment," we asked that the words "good
faith" be more clearly defined in order to clarify the requirements of
outreach recruitment. The sentence reads: "Judicatories do not show forth
good faith effort merely be advertising staff jobs in various publications."
Under "staff Development and Training," in the following paragraph: "The
Vocation Agency will initiate a program whereby employees will assist in the
planning of their own career development. The program will include, but not
be limited to, 1) an assessment of career goals and definition of needed
training experiences to achieve mobility and promotion potential, (this will
be undertaken with minority and female employees for future transfer or
promotion. This will be achieved within the first year of employment." CEW
requested clarification as to whether this process was to be initiated in all
agencies or only the Vocation Agency, and further requested that, if only the
Vocation Agency, it be adopted for inclusion by all agencies in their AAP.
In response to CEW" s recommendation that women and minorities be considered
together in policy but separate in implementation processes, the committee
requested member-at-large Rev. G. Aubrev Young to work with Linda Brebner and
Annette Wall to establish such a process for recommendation to the agencies.
This group's considerations will also include the adaptation of the Womenpower
Consultants" AAP for Women for church uses, the possible establishment of a
position with the program for women as the core of the job description, and
methods of combating the traditional and discriminatory general practice of
limiting promotions of women to those with secretarial/clerical experience.
To the expressed CEW concern that some procedure for the availability of the
AAP compliance procedures be established for the individual employee, it was
decided to consider this during the May meeting of this committee in Omaha,
Nebraska. A process for monitoring and evaluating, as well as the grievance
will also be explored at that time.
QUESTIONNAIRES TO LOCAL CHURCH SECRETARIES
Summary of response from 2,468 secretaries
Social Security -
Less than one week .4$
Over four weeks
Length of Employment:
Less than 1 year
Over 30 years
irial only 65$
Secretarial + Bookkeeping 21$
Secretarial (calendar and
Adult Study: Work related
No time off*
Involvement in church life:
Involvement .of Members:
Clerk of Session
Youth Adviser )
. S. S. Teacher )
Full time (annual salary)
880 secretaries - 35^
Part-time - 622 secretaries
Less than $1,000
$1,000 - $1,999
2,000 - 2,000
3,000 - 3,999
4,000 - 4,999
5,00-0 - 5,999
6,000 - 6,999
7,000 - 7,999
8,000 - 6,999 (or more) .J$
Full time (hoixly rate) -
49 secretaries - 2$
Part-tine — 537 secretaries -
$1.00 - 1.U9
1.50 - 1.99
2.00 - 2.49
2.50 - 2.99
3.00 - 3.49
3.50 - 3.00
More than $4.00
Full time (Volunteer)
Part-time (Volunteer) 5$
No Response (itdl time)
No Response (part time) 5£
A CREATIVE NEW V7AY TO DO MISSION —
PROPOSAL FOR A NINE-MONTH EMPLOYMENT SCHEDULE
"God is calling His church.
"This .General Assembly hears that call.
"It is a call to be and a call to do.
"In the plainest words possible, we
believe the call of 'being' is heard through the
Assembly Committees in a call to repentance and
renewal. To turn from our preoccupation with
ourselves and our systems, from our wealth, our
comforts, our fears, and our suspicions. To re-
pent of all we have been that we should not be,
and to recommit ourselves to Jesus Christ and to
be God's people."
A group of staff people trying to be faithful to that call have
been meeting and have developed a creative alternative for increased staff
interaction with our constituency, which also has favorable budget impli-
cations in our present crisis. After checking the plan further with ■
several dozen staff persons from all agencies and receiving positive
responses , it was decided to submit the plan to the Administrative Cabinet
of the Program Agency for possible use in rebuilding the 1975 budget
options that will go to the Program Agency Board in September. We believe
the church must struggle to express its faithfulness and to offer the
%forld a new option which is the good news.
2/A CREATIVE NEW WAY TO DO MISSION...
I. CONDITIONS ADDRESSED BY THIS PROPOSAL:
A. Necessity of cutting budgets at the national level by 20-30%.
B. Necessity of retaining proper balance between personnel and
program in the total picture.
C. Desire to act creatively with a forward look instead of
simply acting defensively and retreating to the idea of
D. Desire to maximize use of all available resources including
personnel in place now, with some skills and background,
without wasting non-essential or low-priority resources that
happen to be on hand today.
Beginning in January 1975, the exempt staff and program specialists
in all three national agencies would be employed on a nine-month basis
(Plus one month paid vacation) with the understanding that staff are
free to seek additional employment for the other two (or three) months
of the year - as is the present pattern in academic institutions.
The proposal addresses conditions A and B by reducing salaries
20 - 25% and placing staff on three-quarters time. Vacation time would
be negotiated as implementation details are focused.
The proposal addresses condition D by retaining most of the present
exenqpt staff (see "Implementation Details") #< but requires re-evaluation
of most job functions currently carried to allow some reduction of staff and
functions and to correct imbalances in the present structures.
The proposal addresses condition C by providing the forward-looking
benefits and affirming the potential of a majority of staff persons and
functions. Further, it addresses condition C by providing the
following forward-looking benefits:
3/A CREATIVE NEW WAY TO DO MISSION...
A. A model to correct present work-load imbalances for the world
as well as for the established church structures. Idris Hamid,
a Trinidadian minister of the Presbyterian Church, speaks to
TDur growing unemployment is considered by experts as the number one
problem of the 1970' s. Why do we have to maintain the present socio-
economic system in which some are employed and others not? Is it not
possible to orient our employment pattern so that work is treated as
.a commodity to be shared by all? If there is limited work, then it must
be shared. This would mean that instead of having three (persons)
work full time and one totally unemployed, that the work would be so
disbributed that all four (persons) would work nine months of the year,
the salaries adjusted so that they would be the same during the
off period as during the working period. For some this would mean a
smaller salary, but for all it would mean the possibility of an off
period which would be used for leisure, rest, hobbies, study, creative
and cultural activities (and other kinds of interesting work) etc.
"Time" would be considered a form of payment.
What a different society this would be! As it is now, some work
to death — a laborious life — and others vegetate to death — a wasted
life... Work would become a shared privilege, and all would have more time
to develop latent or neglected faculties."
B. Potential to increase the credibility and capabilities of national
agencies' staff persons by providing time and opportunity for
work "in the field" and "at the grass roots" for a minimum of
two months each year - on a staggered basis. This would enable
us to be visible to constituency and expose us anew to needs
and ideas at congregation and middle- judicatory levels, working
in secular jobs, continuing education, "tent-xnaking" ministries,
or extended periods of rest and relaxation.
4/A CREATIVE NEW WAY TO DO MISSION...
C. Potential to rethink and evaluate patterns by which national
agencies are involved in mission and providing additional oppor-
tunities for strengthened relationships with judicatories and
local churches. In addition, a two-month salary or consulting
arrangement may be easier for judicatories and churches to budget
than longer-term options. Judicatories might move to a similar time
plan and consulting base for -their own staffs. Possibly,
national agency, staff could be employed by the Support Agency '
as its new fund-raising consultants in the judicatories.
D. Potential for developing "tent- making ministries as seminaries
are now recommending.
III. IMPLEMENTING DETAILS:
A. GAMC would be asked to approve a change in personnel policies
to redefine "full-time" on the nine-month basis with the same
one month paid vacation as currently exists. If all three
national agencies approve the plan, there would be no reason
for GAMC to refuse it.
B. Vocation Agency offices, assisted by the personnel offices of
other agencies, would need to be redefined to handle the additional
pool of available persons for a staggered work schedule. This
new opportunity to define inter- relationships with middle-
judicatories ruVht be valcomd if properly intcr^ratsd.
5/A CREATIVE NEW WAY TO DO MISSION...
C. Existing job functions should be assessed to 1) eliminate
unnecessary functions, and 2) to encourage staff flexibility
and support. Such an assessment would inevitably mean that
some staff positions would be eliminated. Staff job evaluations
should also be used as tools for necessary termination of
D. Non-exempt staff positions would continue on a 12-month basis,
with the option available for negotiation of the same plan if
desired. It is assumed that the majority of non-exempt functions
now planned to be eliminated or combined would follow the present
plan and time schedule'and would not be affected by this plan.
E. it is assumed that the Administrative Cabinet would provide
budget detail and specific figures to justify and authenticate
the proposal for 1) the Program Agency Board, and 2) the GAMC.
F. There should be an opportunity, as soon as possible , to
share the nature and details of this plan with the staff at
large - through reports of persons attending the Administrative
Cabinet meeting August 23, 24, and 25, and before the Program
Agency Board meets September 6 and 1 , for the purposes of
furthering support and seeking feedback.
IV. SERVING AS A MODEL IN THE WORLD:
A. The plan could serve as a aodel for other institutions facing
crises of reduced budgets.
6/A CREATIVE NEW WAY TO DO MISSION...
B. The Church would find itself in a prophetic role seeking to
enable more humane and workable methods to help individuals and
institutions discover and provide meaningful fulfillment and
employment for persons in our society.
C. Staff persons would continue to develop their own leadership
abilities and skills, as well as provide opportunities for
leadership development in the church-at-large.
D. The Church would provide a witness of stewardship of time and
energies, strengthening its role as a "servant people."
E. The plan would serve to affirm a willingness of staff to share
equally the burden of the crisis situation and affirm the
unique and individual contributions of many staff people.
V. THE FUTURE:
A. If the financial situation of the church improves and the resources
available for national expenditures increase, many staff persons
might want to consider a 12-month schedule. Others, however,
might elect to stay on a nine-month plan because of the creative
possibilities which have been opened to them.
B. The Church would live out its commitment to be a confessing
Church. From the Confession of 19 67; "In each time and place
there are particular problems and crises through which God calls
the church to act. The church, guided by the Spirit, humbled
by its own complicity, and instructed by all attainable know-
ledge, seeks to discern the will of God and learn how to obey
in these concrete situations. "
ESSENTIAL FEA TORES OF THE TEN-MONTH STAFF PUN
1. Participating stafi would work nine months and have one month paid vacation. They
would receive salary for ten months' work (tho payments might be spread over twelve).
Because of present budget reductions, the number of functions/ jobs is going to be
reduced - say, from 120 to 100. One way to reduce staff accordingly is to terminate
20 persons. This plan proposes another way - let the 120 staff persons go on 5/6
of full time and thereby spread 120 persons over 100 jobs. T\e jobs are still full
time, a year's worth of work; th y carry full salaries appropriate to that work;
the difference is that both the work and the pay are given to part-time workers.
2. Work schedules would be arranged individually so that the jobs would be covered
at all time. A worker's time out of the office would not necessarily be in one
three-month period, but could be a month at a time if that worked out better.
Scheduling would be complex, but this plan contends that it would be worth the
effort; it also contends that the staff members have the flexibility to cover
several related functions as needed thruout the year.
3« The plan is not a way to preserve the whole present staff, which would not be
desireable or possible. It is a way to keep staff cuts to a minimum, recognizing
that a great deal of the "program" of this Agency is in fact its skilled personnel.
U. This plan is a way to preserve the balance and diversity of the present staff
with its attention to equal employment opportunity for both sexes, all ages and
races. Cutting out whole individuals risks losing this balance; keeping more
individuals on a 5/6 time basis allows preservation of much more diversity.
5« This plan is a way for the Agency's staff to share the unemployment - a situation
some believe will be with us for quite some time ahead - by each person losing
1/6 of a job rather than some people losing whole jobs. The plan allows the
staff to express their solidarity with colleagues in the understanding that
each one brings humanity and diversity that enrich us all.
6. The plan encourages participating staff to find outside work for the two or
three months they are not working for the Agency. For some, this could result
in a higher total income than they now receive. For others, it could mean a
chance to try out new types of work, thereby increasing their flexibility and
value to the Agency. If the plan were adopted GA-wide, possibly the Vocation
Agency and other personnel offices could direct some attention toward locating
useful placements that would contribute to the skills of the staff and the
welfare of the whole Church. This factor is an added attraction, not essential
to adoption of the plan, however.
?• F^r maximum budget effect, the plan would have to apply to all exempt staff of
the Agency (with the possible exception of the top administration). However,
it could still have some effect if individual units were given the option to
make their personnel-cost reductions in this way instead of terminating valued
individuals completely. Unless the plan were adopted fairly widely, it could
be psychologically difficult for those who did participate; hence the stipulation
that it be made mandatory in the present version of the plan, with provision to
negotiate particularly difficult situations one by one. A total plan with negotiated
exceptions has a different psychology than a volunteer plan with a few participants.
Any person about to be terminated has to renegotiate his/her financial commitments;
having an option to go on a ten-month's plan also requires adjustments, but much
less severe. For some, even this would prove impossible and they wouid prefer to
resign and seek twelve-month work, but this plan at least gives them that option.
In the present world economic situation, renegotiations of commitments may soon be
required of everyone; this plan could let the Church encourage a facing of this
reality and help those involved to deal with it in community.
The CEW Response to the G.A. Agency Staff Terminations in October, 1974,
The budget cut o-f *6 million at the national level of the UPC is news
you have been reading about in many places since the General Assembly met in
June. The crippling tension, grief, etc. which has pervaded the Agencies'
offices in the intervening period has not been widely publicized and must be
"read between the lines" of official reports. Various units, cabinets,
councils, boards, went through deliberations all summer to decide which
"functions" the Agencies were performing could be cut. The persons who proved
to be related to these "functions" were told of their terminations in
September. As far as I (the editor) can determine, seven CEW members were
terminated, including three members of the Steering Committee and one male
associate member. A number of questions have been raised about the entire
process of budget cuts (both program and staff). CEW members and CEW as an
organization have joined in this questioning in several ways.
As an organization.
General Assembly Mission
Vocation) urging them
employment of women by
adopted by the G**C. F
this concern, and after
dismay at the number an
Program Agency Cin this
have ail been left with
another unit was terminat
unit— although the over a 1
exempt level dropped by
The CEW S.C. heard a rep
terminated women; sever a
Committee on Women.
CEW wrote in early August to the Directors of the
Council and the three Agencies (Program, Support and
to take seriously the Church's commitment to the
following equal employment opportunity guidelines
ollow-up letters have also been sent, re-emphasizing
the terminations were announced, expressing CEW r s
d positions of women terminated, especially in the
Agency, three units and a sub-unit of a larger unit
no women exempt (executive) staff; a position in
ed, but the one woman there wa? reassigned within the
1 percentage o-f women employed by the Agencies at the
only two percentage points (an unofficial report],
ort on the terminations at its meeting by one of the
1 concerns were channeled onward to the Consultinq
CEW has been one of the constituency groups represented by the
"Coalition" which itself joined with the Council on Women and the Church and
the Council on Church and Race, and representatives of terminated staff whirh
brought a joint statement to the Coordinating Cabinet (the combined General
Directors) in September. This statement and the presentation which
accompanied it raised questions about the way EEO policy seemed to have been
set aside in the termination process and the limited role of the Office of
EEO. This group also raised the crucial questions about the lack of clearly
defined, adopted and publicized priorities for aission of the church at the
national level, and the resulting difficulties of cutting certain "functions"
without such clear priorities. Included were a series of requested actions.
The reply by the Coordinating Cabinet was disappointing to the combined
petitioners, who felt that the Cabinet denied any miscarriage of procedures,
quoted unanalyzed EEO figures, and did not deal with the question of mission
priorities. The Coalition and Councils continue their discussions concerning
other avenues of action.
During the last nine months or so, sever*! CEW members have joined with
some other women staff of the UPC in New York to meet informally, initially
discussing areas of staff development not currently provided in the Agencies"
structure, in which they might be of mutual help. When the budget crisis
"broke", this group worked together to consider issues and alternatives: they
wrote a statement on EEO in the current situation which was presented to the
GAMC; they developed an alternative plan to reduce budget by staff and create
a new work/life style, proposing that agency staff work on a nine-montn
schedule, having then three months for study, leisure, or consulting jobs with
judicatories or congregations, and together with other supporters of this plan
distributed it widely in the Program Agency; they helped raise questions about
the mission priorities and style of the Agencies. This group also became
increasingly important for support as tension grew and as finally over half
the women involved in the group were terminated.
CHURCH EMPLOYED WOMEN'S STATEMENT AND PROPOSAL
PREPARED FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY MISSION COUNCIL
/ July 13, 1973
Some clarity concerning the status of Church Employed Women is needed.
1. Church Employed Women i6 an organization of women vhose con-
stituency is and whose purposes are:
educators (DCE's, seminary and college personnel)
lay enployees (paraprofessionals)
agency and judicatory staff
others employed by the church.
1. Developing among employed women a community for psycho-
logical and economic support.
2. Opening of doors for the contributions and influence of
church employed women so that the church no longer need
be deprived of the gifts of these women.
3« Acting as advocates for all women.
k. Humanizing our various work systems.
5. Taking our place beside and working with employed women of
At the l&hth General Assembly in 1972, the following action was taken
in relation to Church Employed Women:
Whereas, the General Assembly has defined the place of women in the
life of the church as one of its more urgent concerns: and
• Whereas, opportunities for women to contribute and participate at
all levels of ministries within the church have been severely limited:
Whereas, the church has been deprived of the leadership and resources
of women committed to the call of Christ to serve the church as their
Whereas, a national support group known as Church Employed Women has
been voluntarily formed to deal with the unique situation of women
employed in the church today, including church musicians, seminary
students, church secretaries, other office personnel, Christian edu-
cators, commissioned church workers, clergywomen, and others: and
Whereas, the Church Employed Women need to find ways to challenge
policies and practices of personnel agencies, to bring about equal
opportunities and fair employment in parishes and Judicatories across
the church; and
Whereas, new models of ministry must be explored and developed: and
Whereas, there is a need for continuing training, internship, career
. counseling, and regional support conferences; and
Whereas, there is a need for communication - liaison and leadership
development in parishes and judicatories across the church:
Therefore, the standing committee recommends :
1. That the l8Uth General Assembly (1972) recognize Church Employed
Women and affirm a need for this support community.
2. That with the advent of the new structure a Consulting Committee
on Church Employed Women be formed administratively related, funded
by, and staffed by the Vocation Agency of the General Assembly,
with a liaison relationship to the Women's Office of the Program
Agency. (This was designated Reference 10 . )
Two-thirds of the members will be elected by Church Employed Women
and one-third appointed by the Vocation Agency.
3- That General Assembly allocate funds to provide for services such
as volunteers, additional staff services, regional conferences,
resources, and consultants during the interim period. (This was
designated Reference 11 . )
It needs to be noted that the organization of Church Employed Women was
recognized by the General Assembly and is distinct and different from the
Consulting Committee on Church Employed Women which will be administratively
related to the Vocation Agency.
Secondly, it needs to be noted that it was voted that the General Assembly
allocate funds to provide for additional staff services during the interim
Subsequent to this action, $5,000 was voted for Church Employed Women.
In 1973 > Church Employed Women, having been recognized by the church, re-
ported through the Standing Committee on Women. We have since been informed
that in subsequent years we are to report through the Committee on Minutes and
Reports. In the confusion of restructuring General Assembly Committees, this
word did not come to us in time to make our report through this
committee in 1973* However, the Standing Committee carried the report of
Church Employed Women to General Assembly; its report was received., and the
following recommendations were voted:
1. That the Vocation Agency call upon the organization of Church Em-
ployed Women (CEW) to develop some recommended procedures for profes-
sionalism in hiring and employment practices for employment of non-
ordained full or part-time church personnel in local churches, and
request that these recommended procedures be reported by Church
Employed Women to the l86th General Assembly (191k):
2. That the l85th General Assembly (1973) express its concern to the
local churches regarding the widespread lack of fringe benefits
in employment available to non-ordained church personnel. Of par-
ticular concern are such important items as:
a. Pension protection;
b. Hospitalization and medical insurance coverage;
c. Continuing education benefits;
d. Adequate vacation time;
e. Federal Unemployment Insurance coverage.
3« Whereas, the restructuring process has provided the pragmatic medium
for the evaluation of women' 6 employment in the UPCUSA in the follow-
ing statistics gathered from the new structure:
Of the top 87 staff positions, 6 have been filled by women, one of
whom was employed in the Women's Program. There are no clergywomen
in these top staff positions.
number of women total number of
employed in the top positions
The Support Agency l^i
The Program Agency 2 18
The Vocation Agency 2 8
A. D. 1 5
The U. P. Foundation
Office of the General Assembly and
the General Assembly Mission
Council 1 1?
The Council on Administrative
The Council of Theological
Seminaries O 1
Synod Executives 17
In addition, there is 1 woman out of UO Presbytery Executives, and
women who are senior pastors in large city churches or suburban par-
Whereas, Church Employed Women (CEW) surveys reveal further that women
employees of the majority of churches have no fringe benefits such as
pensions, no employment protection, and some receive less- than-mini mum
Whereas, in the coming years, the already critical une iplovment leve]
of women will rise with the increased number of women graduating Pror.
Whereas, the church has publicly avowee! its commt L"ient to the concerns
of women through General Assembly actions and translation o r i.his rou-
nd tment from rhetoric to realization requires extensive analysis of
statistics on women employed by the church which, at this dale, Church
Employed Women (CEW) has just begun to establish (Blue Book, pp. 182-
lw; in mimeographed copy - pp. 13-15 )» and
Whereas, the already completed hiring process precludes reined lal action,
Therefore, the Assembly Committee on Women recommends that :
a. The church acknowledge the need to redress the employment situation
of women, and
b. The church engage in a three-year activity of consultation and action
to overcome the under-utilization of women at decision-making levels
and to improve the situation of all women employed across the church.
Such activity could include:
1) Establishing procedures and changes to move women from "qualifiable"
to "qualified" (management skills development).
a) Job training to improve the skills of women.
b) Changing the attitudes in the church toward its wo:.ien employees
attitudes of women toward employment, employers, and various
levels of employees .
c) Creating job environments and management styles that relate to
the needs and life-styles of women.
d ) Redefining the church employer's criteria of "competency."
2) Development of models and opportunities for new ministries on the
part of women.
3) Enhancement of recruitment and employment of minority wo-ren.
c. The Assembly Committee on Women requests the Vocation Agency, the
Council on Administrative Services, the Office of Flqual Employment
Opportunity, and the Council on Women and the Church, in consulta-
tion with Church Employed Women, to give priority attention to
improving the situation in the employment of women by the church.
d. The Assembly Committee on Women of the 185th General Assembly (1°73)
commends an>l supports the Vocation Agency in its efforts to facili-
tate immediate placement of present employees at all ,'udi calory
levels who have been displaced in the restructuring process. The com-
mittee also recommends that the 185th General Assembly (1073) call to
the attention of the Vocation Agency the pressing need to open up em-
ployment opportunities at the level of national and regional ,'udi ca-
tory staff to women and members of minority groups.
Church Employed Women has received the report from the Vocation Agency,
Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, Council on Administrative Services as
to their intent to carry out with Church Employed Women the actions of the
last Ceneral Assembly. We look forward to working with them in the years ahead.
but need some clarity and specificity as to how this can take place. It is clear
to us that in order for Church Employed Women to best serve the church in its
attempt to bring justice for women employed within its system, some funding is
We are aware of Die General Assembly Mission Council's original aoUon
not to provide funds for organizations related to the church in the Form of
Government, Section 28, until guidelines have been established. However, we
asked the General Assembly Mission Council to reconsider this decision and at
a breakfast meeting at General Assembly presented the purposes, objectives and
potential of Church Employed Women to the Council. Action was taken to deal
with this issue at the July meeting.
We feel that Church Employed Women because of the mandate they have re-
ceived from General Assembly to work with the Vocation Agency, the Council on
Administrative Services and the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, has
an obligation to the church which they inust fulfill. To do this, some admin-
istrative costs will be incurred in order for Church Employed Women to function
in the next two years for the following reasons.
1. Staff services originally provided through the Office of Women's
Concerns of the Board of Christian Education will no longer be
available to Church Employed Women.
2. Office services which were formerely provided by that same office
will no longer be available.
3. Volunteer services by their very nature are limited in time and
finances. T5 erefore, some staff services are needed by Church
Employed Women in order to
a. Continue communication with the constituency:
b. Work with the Vocation Agency, Office of Equal Employment
Opportunity and the Council on Administrative Servides in
further specifying their efforts on behalf of women:
c. Provide services to the National Steering Committee, facili-
tating the planning for its meetings and the follow-up thereof:
d. Identify the specific resources and skills available to the
church within Church Employed Women;
e. Interpret the findings of research already begun by Church
Employed Women re women and their employment in the church.
We recognize the non -programmatic definition of the General Assembly Mission
Council. We believe this request to be non -programmatic in that it facilitates
administratively the work that will be done programmatically by the boards and
agencies of the church.
Specifically, Church Employed Women request:
Staff Services $10,000.00
Office Services and Supplies 3.000.00
for each of two years.
An alternative buctget between now and November, In order to carry Church
Employed Women through the transition Interim, would be
Consulting Services $3,500.00
Office Services and Supplies 500.00
If the General Assembly Mission Council at this meeting decides to put
into operation the action of the General Assembly Mission Council, we would
recommend the former budget. If the church wants to put off its decision
until November, we would recommend the alternate budget. Over the years the
United Presbyterian Church has indicated its commitment to self -development
an<i to women. At its last General Assembly, it recognized its need in keeping
with both of these decisions to consult with Church Employed Women, an organi-
sation which is attempting to serve both women and the church for the mutual
growth of both into the body of Christ. The church must somehow deal with the
question of how to facilitate Church Employed Women in its mission tc and with
the church with the understanding that this is an initial step to empower
Church iCmployed Women and that in the next two years steps will be taken for
this organization to be otherwise supported through the structures of the
church and the commitment of women.
Note : Church Employed Women looks forward to a liaison relationship with the
Council on Women and the Church and recognizes the importance of the Council
as the focal point for issues and policies relating to women. It is important,
however, to distinguish the functions of the Council and of Church Employed
Women, recognizing the unique contributions • Church Employed Women needs to
make to the church on the very specific issues related to women's employment.
BOARD OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION
jWTttS R. Gailey, General Secretary
H. Clayton Neel. Assistant General Secretary
Ojcar J. Hussel. Assistant General Secretary
OF THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
WITHERSPOON BUILDING, 1323 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, Pa. 19107
June 25, 1973
(Dictated June 22)
To: Donald Smith, James L. Hogue, Robert A. Hoppe
Dear Don, Jim and Bob:
At the General Assembly in May, decisions relating to CEW (Church Em-
ployed Women) were deferred to the July meeting. We understand CEW is on
the docket for the meeting of the G.A.M.C. on the lUth and 15th in Denver
and that at that time you will be asked to report on hov you plan to use
CEW's consulting services in the year ahead. (We call your attention to
the General Assembly recommendation — see pages 7 and 8 of the enclosed
Report of the Assembly Committee on Women.)
In determining our concern for making CEW effective in the church, ve
need to know vhat your plans are. Could you please outline them for us in
time for us to do some work before the lUth. *See belov for addresses.
We appreciate your support and look forward to working together for
getting a little closer to the Kingdom in the years ahead.
Marjorie Heller Adler
Patricia Budd Kepler
cc: Linda Brebner, Annette Wall
•Ms. Marjorie Heller Adler
111 So. Hewark Street
Ventnor, EJ 08106
Rev. Patricia Budd Kepler
Room 730, Witherspoon Building
Philadelphia, PA 19107
PROPOSALS FROM THE VOCATION AGENCY FOR POSSIBLE
CHURCH EMPLOYED WOMEN CONSULTATIVE SERVICES
The Vocation Agency is providing up to $1,500. for the
Church Employed Women to meet in the fall of 1973 in order to secure
from Church Employed Women as many specific proposals as possible
regarding programmatic approaches to the Vocation Agency's "Priority
to Ministry" Point 3, on affirmative action programs to improve
opportunities for women in Church employment. Specifically/ these
programs are to be formulated and channeled through the Vocation
Agency's Advisory Committee on Women Employed by the Church, and are
— creating a climate of acceptance for women in pulpit
and other ministries,
— the preparation of women for administrative posts in
the Church, and
— programs to enhance the actual placement of women.
Details of these needs will be formulated by the Vocation
Agency Staff, in consultation with the Vocation Agency's Advisory
Committee on Women, and Church Employed Women.
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY MISSION COUNCIL
,. .w Mfh.rrnii OF THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
R*^«lvMJ In the Orfic- 'f en*
/ TxEcuT.vt o,i. : -• -( IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
ASSEMBLY MIS&.0! Ct'JMCt^ R|VERS|0e DR|VE R0QM 1(J20 NEW YQRK N y 1Q027
Trtcphorw : 212 870-2102
JUL 6 1973
July 6, 1973
To: Leon E. Fanniel
Prom: Robert A. Hoppe and Donald P. Smith
Subject: CHURCH EMPLOYED WOMEN
In response to memorandum to Don Smith, Jim Hogue, and Bob Hoppe from
Mnrjorie Adler and Patricia Kepler, the adressees met on July 3, 1973
to draft a response that would give CEW some basis for proposing services
to their respective units.
Our first concern was to state certain principles regarding our responsi-
bilities, our understanding of program funding, and any possible relation-
ship to CEW that involved financial support.
Our second concern was to state specific areas where it would be helpful
to have assistance from women employed within the Church.
The statement of these two concerns was to provide our response to Ms. Adler
and Rev. Kepler.
Our third concern was to indicate to General Assembly Mission Council the
nature of our response to CEW, to suggest a way to fund any services
delivered by CEW, and to provide time for us to review and evaluate
proposals from CEW.
Wo are sending to CEW pages 1 and 2 of the enclosed paper with attachments
that state nature of services Vocation, EEO, and CAS desire. Page 3 in
not being sent since we feel it is for the guidance of GAMC.
If this process is followed, then we would anticipate making a recommendation
to GAMC at its November meeting.
CHURCH EMPLOYED WOMEN AS A SERVICE ORGANIZATION
TO UNITS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
The Committee on Women of the 185th General Assembly (1973) ma d © several
references to the need for the United Presbyterian Church to more carefully study
the plight of women employed within the Church, and to take some specific actions
to remedy situations wherein women employees have been underutilized, discriminated
against, denied full employment opportunity, etc. The General Assembly adopted
the Committee's report, including a request that "...the Vocation Agency, the
Council on Administrative Services, the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity,
and the Council on Women and the Church, in consultation with Church Employed
Women, to give priority attention to improving the situation in the employment
of women by the church..."
The General Assembly Mission Council during the 185th General Assembly
considered the possibility of funding Church Employed Women. The action of the
General Assembly Mission Council was not to fund CEW, or other special organizat-
ions recognized under Chapter XXVIII of the Form of Government until policy
guidelines have been established and approved in accordance with the P/B/E process.
However, it was agreed that GAMC and CEW would consider specific proposals in
greater depth during the July GAMC meeting.
In response to a letter of inquiry from representative of CEW, the
Directors of the Vocation Agency, the Council on Administrative Services, and
the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity met to discuss how the consultative
services of CEW might be used by their respective units. What follows is both a
response to CEW and suggested basis for any action by GAMC.
1. Three units related to the General Assembly ...The Office of Equal
Employment Opportunity, The Vocation Agency, and the Council on Administrative
Services.. * have been given specific responsibilities for enhancing employment
opportunities for women within the United Presbyterian Church. All three are
The 185th General Assembly established the Council on Women and the
Church to deal — among other things — with concerns that have been expressed by
women employed within the Church. Until that Council is fully operational and
can provide systematic imput on the concerns of women employed by the Church,
General Assembly agencies might need such imput from other sources as well.
2. Church Qnployed Women is an organization of women who are now employed
within the Church as clergy, commissioned church workers, other professionally
trained staff, administrators, clerical staff, etc. Other women who have profess-
ional training and would like to work within the Church are also members of CEW.
C1W does not, however, represent all women employed by the Church.
3. CEW has not yet been "recognized" as a special related organization
wrier Chapter XXVTH of the Form of Government in that they have not reported
to General Assembly as prescribed by General Assembly. .
4*&C - CEV page 2
H-. Funding of programs (organizations) is done through the P/b/E process
and through regularly established budgets of a General Assembly agency.
5. Any financial contribution to Church Employed Woman by the Office of
Equal Employment Opportunity, the Vocation Agency, or the Council on
Administrative Services can only be made in terms of payment for specific
consultative services or specific projects rendered to these bodies in
line with their objectives in fulfilling their responsibilities.
6. To enable the Church Efcployed Women to formulate specific proposals for
consultative services or projects, the Vocation Agency is prepared to
provide up to $1,500.00 to assist the CEW Steering Committee to meet
early in the fall of 1973 with an agenda to be established through
mutual consultation among representatives of Church Employed Women,
Council on Administrative Services, Office of Equal Employment Opportunity,
and the Vocation Agency.
7» As basis for the formulation of this agenda, representatives of these
General Assembly bodies are providing Church Employed Women with a list
of potential areas of service which might be the subject of exploration
and specific proposal by Church Employed Women.
SUMMARY: IT IS THE COLIECTIVE OPINION OF THE DIRECTORS OF THE VOCATION
AGENCY, THE COUNCIL ON ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES, AND THE OFFICE
OF EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY THAT THE SITUATION OF WOMEN
EMPLOYED WITHIN THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IS ONE OF THE
HIGHEST PRIORITIES. THAT IN SEEKING TO FULFILL THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES
IN THIS AREA, THE COUNSEL AND ASSISTANCE OF WOMEN NOW EMPLOYED
WITHIN THE CHURCH IS NEEDED.
WHEN THE COUNCIL ON WOMEN AND THE CHURCH IS OPERATIVE, THIS COUNCIL
WOULD APPEAR TO BE THE APPROPRIATE GENERAL ASSEMBLY BODY THROUGH
WHOM SUCH COUNSEL AND ASSISTANCE SHOUID BE SOUGHT AND CHANNELED.
CURRENTLY, THE ORGANIZATION OF CHURCH EMPLOYED WOMEN MIGHT WELL BE
AN AGENT TO PROVIDE THE IMMEDIATE SERVICES REQUIRED. THIS PROPOSAL
IS AN ATTEMPT TO STATE WHAT SPECIFIC AREAS ARE SEEN WHERE ASSISTANCE
IS NEEDED, AND TO PROVIDE CHURCH EMPLOYED WOMEN WITH AN OPPORTUNITY
TO MAKE SPECIFIC PROPOSALS ON HOW THEY MIGHT PROVIDE SUCH ASSISTANCE.
RAH & DPS
GAMC - CEW Page 3
The proposal suggested on the preceeding pages answers one of three
questions raised by the directors of Vocation Agency, Council on Administrative
Services, and the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity:
The first question raised was:
1. What kind of assistance by women employed within the Church would be
helpful to Vocation, EEO, and CAS in fulfilling their responsibili-
ties regarding "under-utilization of women at decision-making levels
and to improve the situation of all women employed across the church."
The second question raised was:
2. How can such assistance be paid for?
This question was partially answered by Item 5 on Page 2. The model for
this kind of relationship can be found in the two year-old relationship of
Project Equality, Inc. - first with the Council on Church and Race, and now
with General Assembly Mission Council.
A specific proposal of a service agreement is presented wherein the areas
of service are spelled out, along with the cost of delivering such services.
The General Assembly unit who receives the services pays for such services . The
service agreement also contains "a participation grant" which is designed to
assist the national office of Project Equality meet its need to have overall
administrative support to enable them to provide the specific services. Tn 1973
the cost of this participation grant is being charged to the Office of IT.O through
The $1,500.00 "grant" of the Vocation Agency can be seen as an example of
participation grant, or as enabling funds to develop a proposal.
The third question raised was:
3. Is Church Employed Women the organization to deliver needed services?
The third question cannot be answered until such time as CEW receives
input arising from question one, and they can formulate a response in terms of
types of consultative services and/or special projects they are prepared to
After receiving specific proposals from CEW, Vocation, CAS, and EEO will
evaluate and decide upon a recommendation to GAMC concerning a service agreement
with CEW if this is considered to be an acceptable way to secure the needed
RAH/ 6 DPS
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY MISSION COUNCIL
July 6, 1973
OF THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
476 RIVERSIDE DRIVE, ROOM 1020. NEW YORK, N.Y. 10027
Tatophon* : 212 870-2102
TO : Ms. Marjorie Heller Adler
Rev. Patricia Budd Kepler
FROM : Donald P. Smith, Vocation Agency
James L. Hogue, Council on Administrative Services
Robert A. Hoppe, Office of Equal Employment Opportunity
SUBJECT : Possible Services from Church Employed Women
In response to your memorandum of June 25, 1973 the three of
us met on July 3rd. In seeking to make a response we considered
three things :
The action of 185th GA (1973) in adopting the report
of The Assembly Committee on Women.
The action (s) of the General Assembly Mission Council
in May 1973.
Areas where our respective agencies might use assistance
from women employed by the Church.
Our response to CEW (through you) is found in the enclosed
paper ,which is also our way of responding to the Steering
Committee of GAMC.
We are prepared to meet with representatives of CEW to further
define the areas listed. You will note that each agency has
provided a separate listing.
If you have specific questions about each agency's response
please call the respective director. If there are questions
about the paper as a whole, please contact Don Smith.
I will out of town from July 7th on and cannot be reached until
July 12th at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Denver.
Robert A. Hoppe S *
Cyi Leon B, Fannie I
BOARD OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION
James R. Gailey, General Secretary
H. Clayton Neel. Assistant General Secretary
Oscar J. Hussel. Assistant General Secretary
OF THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
WITHERSPOON BUILDING, 1323 Walnut Street
Philadelphia. Pa. 19107
Roo m T^O
July 10, 1973
Rev. Leon Fardel
Denver, CO 80202
I would very much like to be with GAMC at their July meeting to speak
in support of Church Employed Women, but the death of my father precludes
I think the Task Force and the Interim Task Force on Women have made
clear that it is important for women employed by the church to speak on
their own behalf and to offer the church their services in relationship to
the policies regarding the employment ;of women. I am confident that the
Council on Women will continue to welcome the voice of Church Employed Women,
speaking on behalf of women who are employed by the Church.
Because this Council "serves as a focal point for the identification of
issues and church-wide policy relating to the status of women and their posi-
tion within the church and in society," it is important for the Council to
have a liaison with the Steering Committee of Church Employed Women which
has been provided for in the representation of the Council. Also, because
we are to "review and evaluate program and operations of General Assembly
agencies and Judicatories in terms of their compliance with General Assembly
approved policies concerning the status of women and their position within the
church and report our findings and recommendations to the General Assembly,
the General Assembly Mission Council, affected General Assembly agencies and
affected Judicatories," we have a concern as to how the General Assembly Mission
Council is going to enable Church Employed Women to carry out their mandate
to serve the church.
I personally concur with their request for administrative funding which
will enhance their effectiveness in the service of the church.
Again, let me say how sorry I am that I cannot be with you. You have my
support in your difficult task. I look forward to working with you in the
years ahead. I appreciate your efforts on behalf of women and know we will
together be thinking of ways to strengthen the church and its mission.
cc: Villard Heckel, Patricia Kepler
Linda Brebner, Annette Wall
Mar jorie Heller Adler
Chairperson, Council on Women and the Church
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY MISSION COUNCIL
r OF THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Uon E. Fenniel 475 RIVERSIDE DRIVE, ROOM 1020, NEW YORK, N.Y. 10027
Executive Director Telephone . 212 870-2102
August 2, 1973
TO: G. Annette Wahl, Co-Chairwoman
Church Employed Women
FROM: ■ Leon E. Fanniel
RE: Request for Funding from Church Employed Women
This is to inform you officially of the actions which the General
Assembly Mission Council took during its July lU-15, 1973 meeting
in Denver regarding the request for funding from Church Employed
The General Assembly Mission Council -
VOTED to approve the following recommendations from its
1) that Church Employed Women be requested to
define precisely what they see to be their
role in relation to the Council on Administra-
tive Services, the Vocation Agency and the Office
of Equal Employment Opportunity.
2) that the General Assembly Mission Council take the
position that the work of Church Employed Women is
programmatic in nature and therefore should not be
funded through the use of per capita.
VOTED to reaffirm its action taken during the May 14-23, 1973
meeting in Omaha as follows:
"that the GAMC not fund those Special Organizations
(such as: Church Employed Women), which are recog-
nized under Chapter XXVIII of the Form of Government
until policy guidelines have been established and
approved in accordance with the P/B/E process."
The above is submitted for your information and guidance
cc: Patricia Kepler
Donald P. Smith
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY MISSION COUNCIL
OF THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
LMA E. F«nnl«l 476 RIVERSIDE DRIVE, ROOM 1020, NEW YORK, N.Y. 10027
Eacuth* Director Tatephon* : 212 870-2102
September 25, 1973
Ms. Joyce L. Manson
United Presbyterian Church U.S.A.
475 Riverside Drive,
New York, N. Y. 10027
Dear Ms. Manson:
I wish to acknowledge your letter indicating a concern for
the action of the General Assembly Mission Council, taken in
Denver on July 14, 1973, on the request of Church Employed
Women for funding. I appreciate your sharing your views with
me and I will report them to the Council.
The Council was requested to approve $7, 800 for Church
Employed Women. The Council did not approve the request.
It is difficult to state why any deliberative body takes any par-
ticular action. Each member has his or her own reasons. It
seemed clear in July that conversations between CEW and the
Vocation Agency, the Council on Administrative Services and
the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity had not yet developed
the ways in which the services of CEW could best be utilized. The
Vocation Agency had agreed to grant $1, 500 to enable the Steering
Committee of CEW to participate further in the definition of the
services CEW can render. When the nature of those services are
identified I believe the services will be funded. The GAMC be-
lieves that the work of CEW is progra.Tnma.tic and therefore should
not be funded through the use of per capita.
In any event, the matter is not closed and your letter was not
written in vain. I will see that the matter comes before the GAMC
Willard Heckel, Chair mar
General Assembly Mission Council
An Analysis of the Early Years of Church Employed Women
As I look back on the lite o-f CEW, especially during its early years, I
see real evidence o-f an intuitive liberation tendency. Although we were all
"products" of our liberal environment, we seemed to be looking beyond liberal
parameters. In our efforts to Dove beyond class lines by making all employed
women of the UPCUSA eligible for membership in CEW, we reflected "communal"
and "marginality" elements of liberation. In challenging structures of the
church to change in dramatic ways, such as questioning the psychological
evaluation policy of the Pensions Board, introducing legislation to create
Personnel Committees for non-clergy employees, in our key involvement in the
development of the EEO/AAP program of the denomination and in our creation of
new pilot ministries for women, we were trying to bring about transformative
change, sometimes verging on revolutionary change. In our desire to build
coalitions with the other women's constituency groups, with the Presbyterian
Gay Caucus, and with the Witherspoon Society (an organization of liberal
Presbyterians that aimed to keep justice issues before the denomination), we
manifested our communal and interdependent understanding as to how change
could occur. In sponsoring the Therapeutic Seminar for Clergywomen, the
workshops for secretaries, and in surveying each of our constituency groups,
we acknowledged the existence of and showed real concern for the
particularities of our members. Our instincts were often in the right place,
although rarely did we fully recognize the nature of our demands or proposals.
We were inexperienced enough to be naive about our dreams and thought we could
expect to see those dreams fulfilled.
I think that in many ways we were the most radical constituency group of
women within the UPCUSA at that point in history (1972-1974), and as a result
we were the most threatening group to those of the established power base.
The fear of our opposition could be clearly felt. I believe that is one
reason we were never allowed into the structure or given substantial funding
from the denomination. I am not surprised that all of those of us on the
Steering Committee who were hired onto the national staff also were terminated
a year later. We were perceived as a power to contend with and as
troublemakers whom it was better to be without. Most of us were white women
who shared class and race privilege with white men, yet we dared to question
the very bases of that privilege. We were thought to be dangerous and needed
to be neutralized by one means or another.
When I think about the three primarily white women's constituencies of
the UPCUSA, I believe that we manifested the conservative (traditional)/
liberal/liberationist (radical) political continuum.
("The pi* is good and we deserve our piece.
It»s all going to be okay, ^ust give up
a piece of the pie.")
LIBERATION! BT 8
("The pie stinks 1 Smash it.")
("The pie is falling!")
There is a sense i
strange kind of agreement
United Presbyterian Women
roles and power dynamics
smashed. COWAC was the
which compromised its rad
and expectations. CEWd
•embers were in enough p
profoundly -from a proto-1
or status ironically left
agreement that the pie w
was a disaster and -for th
level of liberation an
everything was just fine,
of the pie.
n which the conservatives and liberationists aeet in
, both disagreeing with the liberals. In the UPCUSA,
wanted to maintain its established relationships,
and was fearful of things being totally rearranged or
new upstart group with official status and funding
icality so that it remained liberal in its demands
) was still enough outside of the system and its
ain so that it was able to challenge the system more
iberationist perspective. (However, the lack of aoney
CEW vulnerable to co-optation. > CEW and UPW aet in
as going to be destroyed; however, for one group it
e other it was a necessary step to aove on to a new
d justice. In the seantiae, for the liberals,
and everyone would be O.K. once they had their piece
Elizabeth Verdesi described the history of each of the wo»en ? s
constituency groups in the UPCUSA from 1970 to 1983. In each of those
histories, she indicates the interrelationships with the other groups. She
also draws out learnings -from the history of each to be used in the -future.
She drew the following conclusions -froa CEVT s history:
1. effective Advocacy in the church requires soae kind of recognized
status and location within the systea, with adequate budget -and staff.
2. Advocacy work is not always done «ost effectively by those who are
suffering -from the problea, though *victias" should be involved in
providing accurate, authentic information to those who advocate on their
3. The church probably identifies as coepetitive any two <or sore)
groups of woaen unless their coaposition, agenda and purpose are very
4. Bureaucratic systems do not readily tolerate "redundancies," i.e.,
whenever a pressure group advocates a particular course of action, the
group must take heed lest it continue advocating tor something that has
already been done--perhaps not in the -form or way that the group had
wanted, but in a way that satisfies the system. (2)
What interests me about Verdesi's conclusions is that they come from the
person who staffed COWAC in the latter years. In other words, the staff
person for one of the women's constituency groups described and evaluated the
other three groups. (3) I believe that CEW ended up getting the short end of
the stick in Verdesi's conclusions. One must read her conclusions mindful
that COWAC, beginning in 1974(4) began to encroach on the issues which the
Task Force on Women (predecessor body to COWAC) had actually requested CEW to
oversee, namely, those issues that most clearly related to women employed of
In response to the first conclusion above, I would agree that it might
be a lot easier to be an advocate if one has status and funds. However, there
is always the danger that the status and funds may have to be bought at a
price such that the impact of the group is totally compromised, resulting in
no significant change in the structures of the church. As a matter of fact,
the more money CEW received from the structures, the less able it was to
declare clearly the changes that needed to occur and the more liberal became
The CEW members who gathered near Philadelphia in December, 1989, agreed
that the second conclusion listed above was totally inconsistent with Feminist
Liberation; for instead of looking to those most marginalized to name the
oppression and lead in the liberation process, Veraesi's conclusion would lead
us to the liberal maternalism in which justice is done by those outside of the
oppressed group. Somehow those outside know better ano are better equipped to
bring about liberation. The fallacy of this notion has been demonstrated over
Verdesi's states that CEW "tried to become competitive with the one
women's group in the church which had what it needed — legitimization, budget,
staff and recognition. Had there been better communication between CEW and
COWAC, perhaps some of COWAC s energy and resources could have focused on
women's employment in the church, and CEW could have provided information and
strategies which they were uniquely qualified to do.MS) This too is a crazy
charge, for CEW was willing to do this communicating, but when we accepted
COWAC s money, we sold our souls in a way that was not so different froffi what
happened when we accepted money from the Vocation Agency or the Office of
Equal Employment Opportunity. As a matter of fact, we were more vulnerable to
being co-opted by COWAC because we trusted our sisters more than we trusted
the church bureaucrats.
In relation to Verdesi's final conclusion, I have already mentioned some
factors that clouded CEW' s ability to see Ann Conrad's existence in the
structures as necessarily positive following the 1974 layoffs. Although I
would tend to agree that sometimes the system responds in a way that satisfies
it that it has answered a demand from an advocacy group, I am not sure that
the group has to be satisfied just because the system is. However, it would
be important -for the group to couch their demands slightly differently so that
the system cannot slip out of its responsibility by just pointing to what it
has already done to respond. (6)
Lastly, I want to mention briefly that I believe that there was a great
deal of horizontal violence (7) experienced by women within the UPCUSA during
the years 1972-1974. host of us were new feminists, and we did not yet have a
real understanding of how the institutional violence done by systems and
structures could be manifested among those who were victims of that violence.
We, within the various constituencies of women in the UPCUSA, violated women
in our own groups and women in other groups. Our fears and our anger got
directed against those most like us rather than toward those persons and
structures responsible for our pain and suffering. We also failed to
understand the power dynamics that were present in our relationships with
other women as individuals and groups. As a result, we were often unable to
work together in coalitions that might have provided us with greater support
and strength as we challenged the system. Our intuitive liberat ionist
inclinations were compromised not only by what the institutions did to us but
also by what we did to one another.
However, I am really fascinated that what seemed like Liberal Feminism
in the life of Church Employed Women really was quite liber at ionist, however
unconscious or undeveloped. It was a beginning to which we can look back for
courage and insight. This group of women was up against great odds, but they
continued to attempt to make changes on their own behalf and on behalf of all
women employed in the United Presbyterian Church. Their efforts stand as a
testimony that the call to justice and liberation is ever with us, that the
cost of responding to that call is ever great, that the pitfalls along the way
are many, and that the path toward liberation is not always well lighted.
Still and all, I am impressed that many of the women who served on the
Steering Committee of CEW between 1972 and 1974 continue to find ways to make
our way, sometimes stumbling, down that path.
1. TWWCC probably was also on the liberationist side, but I am less aware o-f
their mentality and focus during those early years.
2. Elizabeth Verdesi and Lillian Taylor, Our Rightful Place: The Story o-f
Presbyterian Women, 1970-1963 (New York and Atlanta: Presbyterian Church
U.S.A.) 1985, p. 54.
3. One CEW member at the December, 1989, gathering felt that Verdesi had a
typology she imposed on this data, and the rest of us tended to agree.
4. Up to that time, the relationship between CEW and COWAC had been a
supportive and friendly one. For example, CEW participated in the first
national conference on judicatory task forces on women held in March, 1973, at
which we made an official presentation and led a workshop. Nine nembers of
the CEW Steering Committee were present. (Newsletter in April, 1973)
5. Elizabeth Verdesi and Lillian Taylor, Our Rightful Place , p. 53.
6. As can be seen, I take great exception to Verdesi" s conclusions. I believe
she should have acknowledged her own involvement in the later relationship
between CEW and COWAC so that the reader could factor that reality into her
evaluation of those conclusions. I think that what "bugged" Verdesi and other
COWAC leaders the most about CEW was that it continued to try to be self-
determining and liberationist whenever possible.
7. Horizontal violence is the violence done by individuals to each other
within an oppressed group.
The Design -for the Gathering of White, Middle-Strata Presbyterian Clergy-women
Friday, April 21
Gathering at Dinner
15-20 Gathering Ritual
15-20 Getting on Board with Process
120 Question for the Evening: What di-f-ference does it make in your li-fe
and ministry that you have a -feminist commitment? In what ways has
liberation theology made a difference in your understanding in your
Ten minutes to reflect and jot down notes — then each woman shares for
10-15 Brief closing discussion
5 Brief closing
Saturday, April 22
60 Questions for session: What have been the significant shifts (shifts of
paradigm or world view) in your adult life, especially in the last 10-1
years? What impact have these shifts had on your life and ministry?
Choose one shift upon which to focus, and share within groups of four.
(15 minutes for each woman)
45-60 General discussion of this question: What are the factors in our
lives — histories, contexts, people around us, etc. — that have prepared
us or encouraged us to risk a shift in paradigm or world view? What
factors have blocked such risk taking? What role has liberation
theology had in these shifts?
10-15 With one other woman, help each other to identify your particularities.
Make a list of those characteristics in terms of class, race.
nationality, etc. that make you uniquely who you. are. Think o-f as
many as possible. (Please turn these sheets in to me without names
after the session. )
45-60 General Discussion: Discuss why we don't o-ften think in terms o-f our
particularity. Why are we more aware o-f our particularity in those
areas in which we have little or no privilege? Why does being aware o-f
and honoring our own particularity make us more apt to honor the
particularity of others? How does the awareness of our particularity
and that of others impact our ministries?
80 Questions for session: In what ways in your life has the
erotic/sensual/sexual been experienced as a source of
creation/liberation/power' 7 ' Are there ways in which the erotic,
spiritual, and vocational have been linked in such a way in your life
as to be empowering to you and others? Where have they been in
Each woman gives an illustration of when the erotic/sensual/sexual has
been a. source of creat lon/liberation/power in her life (10 minutes
20 Concluding discussion
30 Keeping in mind a particular political situation you experienced in the
context of the PCUSA, reflect alone on these questions. (Jot down your
answers ana turn into me after the session.)
1. Who were those involved?
2. What were the issues?
3. Did you have any support? From whom?
4. What means did you use to analyze and strategize about the
5. Did you act individually or corporately?
6. How did the issue get "resolved"?
7. What were the pay-offs and costs to you/your group as a result of
your involvement in the political situation?
8. Did feminist liberation theology help you in your analysis or
60 General Discussion and Sharing
Sunday^ April 23
Questions -for the session: When you envision yourself 20 years from
now, who do you see 9 How would you have liked to have spent your time
and energy? What personal and societal issues will have received most
of your attention?
Each woman shares for 10 minutes
(Each session was opened and/or closed with a brief and simple ritual which I
planned and led but with others also providing leadership. These rituals
included a. lot of participatory aspects.)
Elements Essential to Trans-format ion
1. Encounter with the Poor : The initial revision of the map of reality
-for the non-poor requires a direct encounter with the poor or oppressed, those
persons who suffer as innocent victims of the structure of a society that
protects the privileges of the non-poor. The controlling ideology is so
powerful and pervasive that it is virtually impossible for the non-poor to
educate themselves on issues of peace and justice, to pierce the ideological
cocoon, apart from a direct encounter with the poor.... In addition, a personal
encounter is often the only way effectively to challenge the non-poor's
stereotype of the poor.... the poor and oppressed themselves are the
indispensable teachers and eventual liberators of the non-poor....
2. Experiential Immersion that Challenges Assumptions : The language of
"conversion" and "reversal,'' the vision of countering the controlling ideology
for the sake of justice, and the discussion of the necessity for adjustments
in lifestyle all imply major shifts in perspectives for the non-poor. The
research points to the need for an experiential shock that challenges previous
assumptions, reduces one's resistance to change, and requires the exploration
of alternative patterns of living. For those reasons some type of immersion
experience appears indispensable to transformative education. The immersion
experience shapes the conditions under which a personal encounter with the
poor and oppressed people can be fully incorporated,...
3. Openness to Vulnerability : Vulnerability is impossible to assure in
an educational design. Therefore, I have used the idea of openness to
vulnerability as a feasible goal. The risk involved in placing oneself in
vulnerable situations is an important component of transformation. This is
especially true when the situation is likely to require one's temporary
dependence on the poor, who are normally perceived as dependent on the charity
or generosity of the non-poor. ... such risk includes for the non-poor a sense
of danger, a high level of energy, and a desire to investigate alternatives.
Yet one result which a risk-laden act evokes may be even more determinative
for transformation. It is the willingness to be genuinely vulnerable to and
dependent on the care and skills of a person in whom one would normally place
no trust, especially concerning personal health and safety....
4. Community of Support and Accountability : ...A community of support
can provide the foundation for taking the risk to be vulnerable in an
immersion encounter with the poor and oppressed. .. .a supportive community,
especially a community of faith, allows persons to discern and respond to the
demands of a biblical reversal for their own lives and institutions with a
degree of honesty and integrity that would be impossible alone....
5. Vision and Values : Articulating and sustaining the vision are
essential to movements toward change. .. .Effective resistance to injustice and
certainly the energy to act for structural change demand constant
clarification of the new map of reality. ... The following relationship is
demonstrable: the more demanding the prerequisites, the fewer the number of
persons who will be willing to commit themselves to trans-format lve ecucation.
Those who do may be described as a vanguard or a remnant. I personally prefer
the image of an "anticipatory community of -faith."
6. Cycle o-f Critical Socioeconomic Analysis — Reflection/Action/
Reflection : ...Control over the non-poor by the dominant ideology is sustained
by their experiential isolation from the reality under which the victims of
poverty live. The reluctance on the part of the non-poor to trust their
intuition and emotions when they are exposed to this reality contributes to
that control. ... In addition to the need for the emotional, intuitive, and
experiential components, there is a need for an analytical and critical
element in transformative education. .. .A balance to the rhythm or cycle must
be restored. This calls for a dual emphasis on critical, reflective
preparation and follow-up plus exper lential-based action: that is, a cycle of
reflect ion /act ion/ reflect ion. . . .
7. Commitment, Involvement, and Leadership : ...I think there is a strong
connection between expected commitment, empowered involvement, and empowering
shared leadership. The latter is facilitated not just by the formally
designated leader of an educational event but by the developing and reciprocal
leadership of the whole learning community as well. ... There are marks of
leadership -for all participants in models of transformative education: (a)
iifestyiee tested against the criteria for transformation; (b) styles of
learning and teaching that are mutual: (c) ability to learn from and honor the
gifts of the poor; (d) skills in articulating common alienation; and (e)
sensitivity to empowering others.
8. Symbol, Ritual and Liturgy : ...There is often an interconnection
between symbol and ritual that appears in the transformative experience. In
the Christian community the liturgy or worship experience frequently becomes
the event in which the symbols of the community and the ritual that dramatizes
those symbols is lived out. Transformation of consciousness Py experience or
reflection is enhanced by receiving and participating in illuminating and
transforming symbols. ... In the process of transformation the vision of a new
reality contains the symbolic declaration of the meaning and direction of
human life. . . .
General Assembly Report on the Church and Homosexuality May, 1978
I. Response to Overture 9(1976)
The Presbytery o-f New York City and the Presbytery of the Palisades have
asked the General Assembly to give "definitive guidance" in regard to the
ordination of persons who may be otherwise well qualified but who affirm their
own homosexual identity and practice.
The phrase "homosexual persons" does not occur in the Book of Order of
the United Presbyterian Church. No phrase within the Book of Order explicitly
prohibits the ordination of self-af firming, practicing homosexual persons to
office within the church. However, no phrase within the Book of Order can be
construed as an explicit mandate to disregard sexual practice when evaluating
candidates for ordination. In short, the Book of Order does not give explicit
direction to presbyteries, elders, and congregations as to whether or not
self-af firming, practicing homosexual persons are eligible or ineligible for
ordination to office.
There-fore, the 190th General Assembly (1978) of The United Presbyterian
Church in the United States of America offers the presbyteries the following
That unrepentant homosexual practice does not accord with the
requirements for ordination set forth in Form of Government, Chapter VII,
Section 3 (37.03):... "It is indispensable that, besides possessing the
necessary gifts and abilities, natural and acquired, everyone undertaking a
particular ministry should have a sense of inner persuasion, be sound in the
faith, live according to godliness, have the approval of God's people and the
concurring judgment of a lawful judicatory of the Church."
In relation to candidates for the ordained ministry, committees should
be informed by the above guidance.
Consistent with this policy statement and conclusions, the 190th General
1. Adopts this policy statement and directs the Office of the General
Assembly to send a copy of the policy statement to all congregations,
presbyteries, and synods and to provide it for widespread distribution.
2. Receives the background paper of the Task Force to Study
Homosexuality as a study document, and directs the Office of the General
Assembly to provide copies to all congregations, presbyteries, and synods and
to make such copies available to others upon request.
3. Urges judicatories, agencies, and local churches to undertake a
variety of educational activities, using both -formal and in-formal church
structures and organizations.
a. Since homosexuality is one issue that helps clarify our general
responsibility to God in the world and focuses many dimensions of belief and
action, such educational activities should probe such basic issues as (1) the
strengthening of family life: (2) ministry to single persons and affirmation
of their full participation in the Christian community; (3) nurturing
lifestyles in our families, congregations, and communities that celebrate the
values of friendship with peers of one's own sex and the opposite sex,
committed choice of life-mates, joyous and loving fidelity within marriage,
the establishment of homes where love and care can nurture strong children
able to give loving service to others, and the fashioning of an atmosphere of
justice, truth, and kindness that signals Christ's presence; (4) understanding
how to extend ministries of deep concern and challenge to those who through
choice or circumstance are sexually active, homosexuality or heterosexuality,
outside the covenant of marriage; (5) helping those whose ability to show
loving concern is destroyed by homophobia — the irrational fear of and contempt
for homosexual persons.
b. Workshops in synods and presbyteries should be conducted both
to explore ways to help homosexual persons participate in the life of the
church and to discover new ways of reaching out to homosexual persons outside
c. Courses on sexuality should be initiated by seminaries,
colleges, and churches to provide officers and members with a systematic
understanding of the dynamics of human sexuality as understood within the
context of Christian ethics.
d. Contact and dialogue should be encouraged among groups and
persons of all persuasions on the issue of homosexuality.
4. Urges presbyteries and congregations to develop outreach programs to
communities of homosexual persons beyond the church to allow higher levels of
rapport to emerge.
5. Urges agencies of the General Assembly, as appropriate, to develop
responses to the following needs:
a. Support for outreach programs by presbyteries and congregations
to homosexual persons beyond the church to allow higher levels of rapport to
b. Encouragement of contact and dialogue among groups and persons
who disagree on whether or not homosexuality is sinful per se and whether or
not homosexual persons «ay be ordained as church officers.
c. Development of structures to counsel and support homosexual
persons concerned about their sexuality and their Christian faith.
d. Development of pastoral counseling programs for those affected
or offended by the decision of this General Assembly.
6. Urges candidates committees, personnel committees, nominating
committees, and judicatories to conduct their examination of candidates for
ordained office with discretion and sensitivity, recognizing that it would be
a hindrance to God's grace to make a specific inquiry into the sexual
orientation or practice of candidates for ordained office or ordained officers
where the person involved has not taken the initiative in declaring his or her
7. Calls upon the media to continue to work to end the use of harmful
stereotypes of homosexual persons; and encourages agencies of the General
Assembly, presbyteries, and congregations to develop strategies to insure the
end of such abuse.
8. Calls on United Presbyterians to reject in their own lives, and
challenge in others, the sin of homophobia, which drives homosexual persons
away from Christ and his church.
?. Encourages persons working in the human sciences and therapies to
pursue research that will seek to learn more about the nature and causes of
10. Encourages the development of support communities of homosexual
Christians seeking sexual reorientation or meaningful, joyous, and productive
celibate lifestyles and the dissemination throughout the church of information
about such communities.
11. Encourages seminaries to apply the same standards for homosexual and
heterosexual persons applying for admission.
12. Reaffirms the need, as expressed by the 182no General Assembly
(1970) for United Presbyterians to work for the decriminalization of private
homosexual acts between consenting adults, and calls for an end to the
discriminatory enforcement of other criminal laws against homosexual persons.
13. Call upon United Presbyterians to work for the passage of laws that
prohibit discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, and public
accommodations based on the sexual orientation of a person.
14. Declares that these actions shall not be used to affect negatively
the ordination rights of any United Presbyterian deacon, elder, or minister
who has been ordained prior to this date.
Further the 190th General Assembly (1978) calls upon those who in
conscience have difficulty accepting the decisions of this General Assembly
bearing on homosexuality to express that conscience by continued dialogue
within the church.
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